I have seen the future and it looks porcine
Heart Makers: The Future of Transplant Medicine 8.30pm, SBS
IT’S clear from the opening frames of this German documentary that we’re talking about the future: a leggy model wearing some sort of PVC mac and an albino wig strips off for what we are told will be a ‘‘ 100 per cent reliable’’ electronic health scan. We’re not told what year it is, but I hope it’s a long way off because patients have apparently become numbers, doctors have become computers and, worst of all, we can all expect to live to 120.
Many people would probably perk up at the idea of living longer. Not Billy Connolly, who has complained that any extra years of life always come right at the end, when we are dribbling in a nursing home, not in the middle, when we could be off clubbing, travelling and riding motorbikes.
But if you fancy hanging on to this mortal coil for as long as possible, you may find yourself a bit less thrilled by the prospect after watching this program. For one thing, it seems the extra years will be bought by filling us up with bits of pig. Yes, pig, because xenotransplantation — using animal parts in humans — is considered the only way to overcome the fact there are hundreds of thousands more people who need transplants of kidneys or other organs than there are suitable human donors.
Artificial hearts just can’t do the job; the technology has improved, but they are still about as elegant as a mobile phone circa 1986, weigh a good kilogram more than the factoryinstalled version and require electrical leads to be poking permanently through one’s chest wall.
It’s all a long way from the optimism of the 1970s, soon after the discovery of the first effective immuno- suppressive drug, ciclosporin, which made long- term survival after transplants feasible for the first time by preventing the body rejecting transplanted material.
Enter the pig, which produces organs similar enough in shape and size to make them usable in people. Unlike apes, pigs have the additional advantages that they are available in large numbers and their role in the food chain means it’s unlikely to cause a riot when we start farming them for spare parts.
There is a fascinating story to be told about the past and future of transplant medicine. Unfortunately, this stodgy documentary does a poor job of telling it.
The camerawork is static; there are too many talking heads; phrases in the narration repeatedly remind you of a talking German phrasebook; and the script fails to bring the topic alive by creating an engaging narrative thread, resorting too often instead to reeling off statistics.
Have a heart: Pig organs are likely to be harvested for humans