Growing Human Muscle Cells Inside Pigs
Mar. 20, 2017
At Concorde, we like saying that it’s an exciting time to work in health care. A big part of what makes that so true are the scientific breakthroughs and innovations constantly taking place in medical research and development. For those seeking a diploma or degree in a Concorde health care program or for those who already possess one, it could be the first step into a field where the possibilities in health care awareness are endless.
A primary example of this is the work scientists have been doing to get human cells to grow inside a pig embryo. Yes, it sounds like something out of science fiction, but the academic journal Cell, and then reported in a January article in Time magazine reported the experiment.
An important step in health care awareness
Discovering whether human cells can grow in another species is an important question in the field of organ transplantation. There is a world-wide shortage of most organs – including hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys. That means many people awaiting transplants won’t receive them and face certain death.
There have been efforts in the past to grow human tissues in the lab, but those have proved to be inefficient.
“Scientists are not that great at imitating nature,” Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, professor at the Salk Institute and senior author of the new study, said in the Time article.
Belmonte and his team put human stem cells, programmed to become any of the dozens of cells that make up the human body, into the embryos of pigs and let them develop 4-5 weeks. The idea was to allow the natural system of development run its course, then study the embryos to see if any of the human cells survived and grew.
The pig embryos did contain some human cells – both muscle and heart cells – and appeared to be growing normally.
“Nature knows how to educate cells, so in putting the human cells inside the pig embryos, we let nature figure out how to educate them to develop,” Belmonte said in the Time article.
First step in a long journey
Belmonte said the results show that growing human organs in other species is possible. This health care awareness work is being scrutinized carefully by the government and ethical groups like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) because of concerns that human cells might begin developing in the brain of other species, though there was no evidence of that in this current study. The NIH has restricted some of Belmonte’s government-funded work, but much of the study has been privately funded.
Belmonte said he is in no rush to allow the embryos to come to full term. Even at four weeks, he said, the embryos provide the critical information that human cells can be incorporated and grow in a pig embryo. He hopes to now continue the studies to better understand what makes the human cells grow and how to ensure they develop in the right way. Doing so might one day help make growing human organs in other species a safe and health possibility for organ transplants.
It’s an exciting frontier of discovery and health care awareness. Our Concorde students and graduates can experience that excitement by being in the thick of this brave new world of careers in health care!