Several possibilities have been proposed to resolve this medical emergency, including: the use of xenotransplants (animal organs); the production of true bioartificial organs – most often using a natural or artificial biological structure, which is then filled with the patient’s own stem cells; and the use of mechanical organs, already an almost established practice in the replacement of diseased hearts.
Now, a new possibility has been opened, still incipient, but certainly promising. The potential new technique has been proposed by Juan Carlos Izpisúa’s team, and recently published in Cell (Cell 161; 459-469, 2015). It consists of producing a new type of pluripotent cells that can be integrated into the embryos of other animal species and then developed, until able to create tissues or organs. This is a technically possible procedure, demonstrated by Izpisúa and his team, and could get around the ethical difficulties entailed in the use of embryonic stem cells, since to develop the new cells, the procedure can start with iPS cells (reprogrammed adult cells from the patient him or herself).
At present, the experiments with bioartificial organs have been conducted using mice embryos, but they could also be carried out using pig embryos; this would have the advantage that the organs produced would be more similar in size to human organs, so their clinical use would be more feasible.
Be that as it may, this possibility is merely that – a possibility – albeit reasonably attainable.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.