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Scientists have grown Human Cells inside Pig Embryos with goal of growing Livers, other Human Organs in Animals

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FILE - An organ procurement coordinator works on the lungs of an organ donor at Mid-America Transplant Services in St. Louis, Feb. 21, 2014. Advancements are being made in growing human organs for transplant from animals such as pigs. VOA
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Scientists have grown human cells inside pig embryos, a very early step toward the goal of growing livers and other human organs in animals to transplant into people.

The cells made up just a tiny part of each embryo, and the embryos were grown for only a few weeks, researchers reported Thursday.

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Such human-animal research has raised ethical concerns. The U.S. government suspended taxpayer funding of experiments in 2015. The new work, done in California and Spain, was paid for by private foundations.

Any growing of human organs in pigs is “far away,” said Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, an author of the paper in the journal Cell.

He said the new research is “just a very early step toward the goal.”

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Even before that is achieved, he said, putting human cells in animals could pay off for studies of how genetic diseases develop and for screening potential drugs.

Animals with cells from different species are called chimeras. Such mixing has been done before with mice and rats. Larger animals like pigs would be needed to make human-sized organs. That could help ease the shortage of human donors for transplants.

The Salk team is working on making humanized pancreases, hearts and livers in pigs. The animals would grow those organs in place of their own, and they’d be euthanized before the organ is removed.

Most of the organ cells would be human. By injecting pig embryos with stem cells from the person who will get the transplant, the problem of rejection should be minimized, said another Salk researcher, Jun Wu.

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Daniel Garry of the University of Minnesota, who is working on chimeras but didn’t participate in the new work, called the Cell paper “an exciting initial step for this entire field.”

Here’s what the new paper reports:

Scientists used human stem cells, which are capable of producing a wide variety of specialized cells. They injected pig embryos made in the lab with three to 10 of those cells apiece, and implanted the embryos into sows. At three to four weeks of development, 186 embryos were removed and examined.

Less than 1 in every 100,000 embryonic cells was human, which still comes to about a million human cells, Wu said. That contribution is lower than expected, he said, “but we were very happy to see we actually can see the human cells after four weeks of development.”

The cells generated the precursors of muscle, heart, pancreas, liver and spinal cord tissue in the embryos. The researchers said they plan to test ways to focus human cells on making specific tissues while avoiding any contribution to the brain, sperm or eggs.

That addresses ethical concerns that the approach could accidentally lead to pigs that gain some human qualities in their brains, or make human egg or sperm.

There was no sign of that in the new research. The government, meanwhile, has signaled that it may lift the federal funding ban soon but impose extra oversight of any proposed work.

A pig might not always have to be brought to term, Belmonte and Wu said. Even a pig fetus might provide human pancreatic cells to treat diabetes, or kidney cells to repair injuries to that organ, they said.

The University of Minnesota’s Garry said the research offers some direction about what kind of human stem cells will work best. And it shows a need for boosting the number of human cells that appear in the embryo, he said.

Hiromitsu Nakauchi of Stanford University said his own unpublished experiments with pig and sheep embryos also found a sparse contribution from injected human cells. That’s a challenge for making organs, but it might be surmounted by focusing cells on doing that job, he said.

Ethics experts were also impressed by the results. “It really does give a green light to explore more,” said Insoo Hyun of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Hyun said he understood why some people might object on moral grounds to making animals with human organs.

“It seems kind of creepy,” he said. But “this is a strategy to help save human lives” and so it is justified if properly done, he said.

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)