Following the success of pig organ transplants, scientists decided to specifically raise pigs to serve as human heart donors.
German biotechnologists are going to grow genetically modified pigs, which will serve as heart donors for humans. The first generation of animals will be born this year, and by 2025 the organs of such pigs are planned to be used in clinical trials.
The idea gave rise to a heated discussion in society: supporters consider it salvation for terminally ill people, and opponents accuse it of being unethical towards animals.
Human-pig transplants: What do we know?
The last six months have been rich in innovative operations for transplanting animal organs to humans. First, doctors in New York connected a pig kidney to a woman who had previously been diagnosed with brain death.
For three days, the researchers found no signs of rejection or damage to the kidney – the organ functioned and even reduced the woman’s blood levels of creatinine, which she had increased due to kidney failure.
The second porcine kidney transplant to a brain-dead patient was performed by surgeons at the University of Alabama. This time, the doctors connected two kidneys to the patient and also did not notice any signs of rejection of the organ, which immediately after the transplant began to filter urine.
Doctors from the University of Maryland went one step further and transplanted an organ from a pig into a human with a living brain, although in this case, it was not about the kidneys, but about the heart. The recipient was a dying man who was deemed unfit to receive a human organ donor, so the experimental operation was his last chance at life. After the transplant, the man felt good, and his heart functioned normally and pumped blood.
Scientists will raise pigs specifically for heart transplants
Eckhard Wolf and his colleagues at the Ludwig-Maximilian University, following the success of pig organ transplants, decided to specifically raise pigs to serve as human heart donors. The fact is that in all these operations, organs from genetically modified animals were used – they turned off the genes encoding immunogenic molecules and introduced into the genome six additional genes that are responsible for immune tolerance. The human body is less likely to reject such modified organs.
Wolf and colleagues plan to reduce the number of genetic modifications to five in order to create the founders of the line, and then they will raise their descendants. They want to receive the first generation already this year, and by 2025 they plan to start using organs from such animals in clinical trials for animal organ transplants.
Wolf’s idea immediately had both supporters and opponents. The former says that xenotransplantation (that is, a transplant from one species to another) is an excellent way out for people who have been waiting for donor organs for years, and sometimes not at all. Opponents question the ethics of this approach and argue that animals should not serve as “organ factories” for humans.
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• Alkousaa, R., & Uyanik, A. (2022, February 3). German researchers to breed pigs for human heart transplants this year. Reuters.
• Beil, L. (2022, January 28). Will animal-to-human organ transplants overcome their complicated history? Science News.
• Euronews and Reuters. (2022, February 3). German researchers plan to breed pigs for human heart transplants.
• Financial Times. (n.d.). Subscribe to the FT to read: Financial Times gene editing: Pig hearts and the new era of organ transplants.
• University of Maryland. (n.d.). University of Maryland School of Medicine Faculty Scientists and clinicians perform historic first successful transplant of porcine heart into adult human with end-stage heart disease.