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The Science Blog

18/07/2014

Pig hearts transplanted into baboons – when will enough be enough?

According to researchers in the USA, pig hearts transplanted into the bodies of baboons have managed to survive for almost 600 days – a so-called ‘success’ which is being hailed as a significant step towards animal-to-human transplants.1

Xenotransplantation (the transplanting of organs from one species to another) has been attempted thousands of times using animals and has monumentally failed because of problems with safety, species differences and organ rejection. Researchers from the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute claim that they have tackled some of these problems by creating genetically modified piglets whose organs have been tweaked to be more compatible with the baboon’s immune system.

After killing and dissecting these ‘designer pigs’, their hearts were subsequently transplanted into the abdomen of four baboons and monitored for survival and compatibility. This means that the baboons still had to rely on their own hearts to pump blood around their bodies. The ‘success’ therefore only relates to the survival of a genetically modified pig heart surgically implanted into the abdomen of a baboon and does not prove that the organ could actually work as a fully-functioning and long-term replacement for the animals’ own hearts.

Sadly, this is just the latest in a long line of grotesque experiments claiming to bring us ‘closer’ to human transplants, something which has been explored for decades with limited success. Even the researchers themselves acknowledge that, yet again, the use of animals as organ donors for humans remains a long way off from being a realistic solution for organ replacement.

The BUAV has repeatedly spoken out against these types of claims2 and firmly supports the call to increase the availability of human organs by changing the donor system from ‘opt in’ to ‘opt out’. Wales recently became the first UK country to legally adopt this system and estimates that it could lead to a 25% rise in the number of donors.3 Clearly, this is where the solution lies and not in the barbaric use of animals as ‘spare parts’ – enough is enough!

 

Sources:

1. Baboons with pig hearts pave way for human transplants. (2014). New Scientist: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25508-baboons-with-pig-hearts-pave-way-for-human-transplants.html#.U7LKGJVOXIU

2. Xenotransplantation not a solution. (2010). British Medical Journal: http://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/11/02/xenotransplantation-not-solution

3. Organ donation opt-out system given go-ahead in Wales. (2013). BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-23143236

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