Scientists have for the first time ever created human-sheep hybrids, and they hope that human organs could be grown in the animals and later transplanted into humans.
It is to be noted that around 76,000 people in the US and 6,500 in the UK are on an organ transplant list. According to NHS Blood and Transplant, almost 460 people died in 2016 waiting for organs, and those who do receive transplants sometimes see organs rejected. The breakthrough could help reduce the global shortage of organ donors.
According to scientists, growing human organs inside animals would not only increase supply but also offer the possibility of genetically tailoring the organs, removing the possibility of rejection, The Guardian reported.
Not only that, the project of Stanford University might even help them to find a cure for type-1 diabetes by creating healthy pancreases to regulate blood sugar.
The next step is implanting human stem cells into sheep embryos that have been genetically modified. If it turns out to be successful, a human pancreas would be grown inside the animal's body.
Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Austin, lead researcher Dr Hiro Nakuachi said: "It could take five years or it could take 10 years but I think eventually we will be able to do this."
Nakuachi added: "We have already generated a mouse pancreas in rats and then transplanted those into a diabetic mouse and were able to show almost a complete cure without any immunosuppressants."
He further explained: "When it comes to human-sheep it seems more difficult. So we would like to proceed a little longer and this time use organ-deficient embryos."
This is not the first time scientists tried to grow human organs in animals. Researchers had earlier created human-pig hybrids to achieve the this, but no team could take it to the next level.
Prior to that, scientists had hoped that pig or sheep organs could directly be used in humans as they are roughly of the same size as human organs, but they were always rejected, The Telegraph reported.
In the new approach, the rejection problem is cut down because the researchers use stem cells directly from a human patient.
Dr Pablo Ross, who works with Nakauchi, said: "The sheep is a good model for many human conditions." It would be groundbreaking if the team manages to grow a human organ inside an animal.