Israeli scientist aims to replace human organs on demand

Imagine a world where a person with early stages of kidney failure could just get an organ replacement like a car owner would buy a new engine at the store.

According to Dr Shahar Cohen, such a scenario is likely to be expected in less than a decade.

“Wouldn’t a 100-year-old benefit from a new organ even if it isn’t lacking?” Cohen, who runs Nayacure Labs, asked. “If organ transplants were safer and more accessible, you could replace organs as part of a maintenance plan to prevent disease. “

This is just one of many ideas that sound like science fiction but are quickly becoming reality thanks to the work of doctors and scientists in the field of regenerative medicine.

As people are expected to live to be 100 years old and beyond, efforts are underway to make this viable without having to sacrifice too much quality of life, Cohen said.

“Living longer and in better health is something people are really talking about,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “Aging is seen as a disease that can be cured rather than something inevitable and normal. “

There are several examples of such efforts, such as the use of CRISPR technology to alter the DNA sequence to replace abnormal or bad parts of DNA or insert missing good genes.

Other research focuses on the connection of the human nervous system to machines; others focus on using big data and AI to generate information on the prevention and treatment of many diseases.

Cohen’s bioengineering lab is working on a project he calls “Organs on Demand,” which takes an engineered approach to tackling immune rejection resulting from organ transplantation.

“Our goal is to generate an unlimited supply of organs compatible with humans to meet the global shortage of organs available for transplantation,” he said.

To do this, Cohen and his team use advanced tissue engineering techniques to replace the innermost layer of the donor’s blood vessels – in this case, a pig – with non-immunogenic human cells, paving the way for the generation of ‘transplantable and fully functional organs.

A diagram illustrates how organs from pigs can be used for human organ transplants. (credit: COURTESY OF NAYACURE LABS)

The main trigger for organ rejection is the inner lining of its blood vessels, Cohen said. This coating is the point of contact between the transplanted organ and the recipient’s body.

“We looked for a way to produce an alternative coating that doesn’t cause rejection,” he explained.

The solution: Cohen’s team removed the coating from the blood vessels of pigs and replaced it with a more “friendly” coating for the human immune system that was engineered in the lab from human placenta cells, which, as far as we know, don’t trigger rejection.

“We remove the inner layer of pig’s blood vessels and replace it with a ‘human layer’, thereby humanizing the organ’s blood vessels and generating a hybrid organ – a pig organ with humanized blood vessels,” Cohen said. . “It’s the way to overcome the barrier of pig organs in humans.”

The method has been tried successfully so far in a number of organs and limbs, including the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas, he said. The experiments so far have been ex vivo, that is to say outside the body.

Cohen’s research was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific reports, a research journal of the Nature Portfolio.

Eventually, Cohen believes the process will work to replace other types of body parts, including limbs, uteri, and even faces, which is nearly impossible today – not because transplantation is difficult, but mainly due to acute releases.

“It’s something that makes a lot of sense if you consider the need,” Cohen said. “Look at the numbers: there is a massive shortage of transplantable organs. “

In the United States alone, someone is added to the organ waiting list every 10 minutes. Around 20 people die every day while waiting for a vital transplant. The need is even greater since countless more people in need of organ transplants are not even put on waiting lists before dying of organ failure.

Additionally, Cohen said, it is estimated that 35% of deaths in the United States could be prevented if people had unrestricted access to organ transplants.

“The need is huge, and the opportunity is huge too,” he said. “If you could change it so that the person’s body doesn’t reject the pig organ, you could transform everything as we know it.”

Cohen said he plans to work with third-party pig manufacturers that will breed and raise pigs that are safer for humans, and organs could then be ready on demand.

“You don’t need a lot of pigs to solve the global shortage,” he said. “In the United States alone, more than 100 million pigs are used in the food industry, and it takes less than 1% to obtain an unlimited supply of organs to solve the global shortage. “

Cohen said he believes the first human trials for his pig transplant process will begin within three to five years.

“We are living in really exciting times,” he said. “All of these technologies are evolving very quickly. We believe our technology offers an important shortcut in efforts to generate an unlimited supply of transplantable organs that will be available on demand.

“The future is here,” Cohen said. “The future is now.”

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