Medical researchers in Japan are taking the idea of organ transplants in a direction not considered elsewhere.  Scientists in Japan are expecting approval soon that will allow them to grow human organs in animals and then transplant them back into human patients.

The idea is to take a human stem cell and implant that into the embryo of a pig, which is then put into the mother pig’s womb.  Scientists believe they will be able to grow perfect human organs – hearts, kidneys, livers – and when the animal grows to maturity and is prepared for slaughter the organ will be removed and transplanted into a human recipient.

KTRH medical expert Dr. Joe Galati appreciates the needs for organs available for transplant better than almost anyone.  Dr. Galati is the Medical Director of the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation at The Methodist Hospital. 

“We have more and more patients being added to the waiting list around the country, and certainly the number of new donors we’re getting over the last ten years has only increased slightly,” says Dr. Galati.  But he doesn’t see the kind of research being practiced in Japan coming to the United States anytime soon.

“We are many, many, many years away before we’re going to be implanting organs that were cultured in animals.  I believe research needs to go forward, we still need to figure out how this all works, but in the foreseeable future I don’t see this happening here at all,” Galati continues.

Japanese researchers anticipate their first attempt at harvesting human organs grown inside an animal will be a pancreas because, say the researchers, a human pancreas is a relatively easy human organ to create.

The head researcher says once they get governmental approval to continue, the scientists expect to produce the first pig carrying a human organ within 12 months.