In 2017, scientists at the Salk Institute in California managed to do the impossible. They took the cells of a human and grew them inside a non-human host. In fact, they grew them inside a pig embryo. Most human-animal chimera experiments have been halted due to funding or logistics, but this project – funded by private donors – has advanced well beyond any prior research projects. The ultimate goal is organ creation. Every 10 minutes, a new person is added to the Organ Donor waiting list and the amount is growing. 22 people die every day when they do not receive the organ they need. Can pigs be our new saviors?
Elsie How, our current faux expert, had her thoughts on the matter. “At first I thought it was a joke, like fake news, when I saw it first. Pig people? Like what?” But after realizing the article was based in an actualized experiment, she considered the implications. “What if we got a human with a pig brain?” Elsie asked. “Would it even sound human? How could that be moral?” And the most important question, where does it stop?
The main issue these scientists are running into is the lack of control in the application at the embryo level. The cells are combined very early on and then grow together as a hybrid. This is the best way to keep the cells from rejecting each other. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how much will be pig and how much will be human. And rejection is still a high risk. In one experiment, the embryo had 100,000 human cells. This balance is key. Too much pig and the human would reject the embryo. Too much human and the embryo could die or reject the human cells.
But before any of us get ahead of ourselves, this science has a long way to go. Every step of the process is reviewed repeatedly, and there are currently zero plans for human trials. Pig human hybrids are certainly very, very far into the future, but the idea is still there. As for us? We'll continue to practice our Ms. Piggy impressions while keeping an eye on the continued pig people studies.