Huddled at the back of her shed, bleating under a magnificent winter coat and tearing cheerfully at a bale of hay, she is possibly the answer to Japan’s chronic national shortage of organ donors: a sheep with a revolutionary secret.
Guided by one of the animal’s lab-coated creators, the visitor’s hand is led to the creature’s underbelly and towards a spot in the middle under eight inches of greasy wool. Lurking there is a spare pancreas.
If the science that put it there can be pushed further forward, Japan may be spared an ethical and practical crisis that has split medical and political opinion.
As the sheep-based chimera organ technology stands at the moment, says the man who is pioneering it, the only viable destination for the pancreas underneath his sheep would be a diabetic chimpanzee.
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The organ growing on the sheep was generated from monkey stem cells but the man behind the science, Yutaka Hanazono, believes that the technology could be developed eventually to make sheep into walking organ banks for human livers, hearts, pancreases and skin.
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It could happen within a decade, he guesses, perhaps two.
“We have made some very big advances here. There has historically been work on the potential of sheep as producers of human blood, but we are only slowly coming closer to the point where we can harvest sheep for human organs,” Professor Hanazono told The Times.