Pig-to-hu­man heart trans­plant more likely after ba­boon suc­cess

The Timaru Herald - - WORLD -

Pig hearts could soon be tested in hu­mans after sci­en­tists passed an im­por­tant mile­stone by keep­ing pri­mates alive for three months after trans­plant­ing the or­gans.

Sur­geons in Ger­many grafted pig hearts into five ba­boons and kept four of the an­i­mals alive for at least 90 days, with one still in good health for more than six months.

In 2000, the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety for Heart and Lung Trans­plan­ta­tion sug­gested that hu­man tri­als would be con­sid­ered once 60 per cent of pri­mates could sur­vive for three months, with at least some in­di­ca­tion that longer sur­vival was pos­si­ble. Writ­ing in the jour­nal Na­ture, Bruno Re­ichart, a car­diac sur­geon from Lud­wig Max­i­m­il­ian Univer­sity of Mu­nich, said they had proved that trans­plant­ing hearts worked in one of mankind’s clos­est rel­a­tives, and that 195-day sur­vival was a ‘‘mile­stone’’.

Bri­tish sci­en­tists said that the gov­ern­ment, NHS and The Hu­man Tis­sue Au­thor­ity should now look at how to reg­u­late and fund op­er­a­tions.

Barry Fuller, pro­fes­sor in sur­gi­cal science & low tem­per­a­ture medicine, of UCL and Royal Free Lon­don NHS Foun­da­tion Trust Trans­plan­ta­tion Ser­vices, said: ‘‘The pos­si­bil­ity to use an­i­mal or­gans for trans­plan­ta­tion to over­come or­gan short­ages has been dis­cussed for decades, but has never be­come a re­al­ity be­cause the hu­man body ag­gres­sively re­jects an­i­mal or­gan trans­plants be­cause of mul­ti­ple and strong im­mune re­ac­tions.

‘‘Sci­en­tists have de­vel­oped ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied pigs which could in the­ory re­duce this strong im­mune re­sponse, but even then, sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems have re­mained. This new re­search can thus help both to bring or­gan xeno­trans­plan­ta­tion a step closer to hu­man ap­pli­ca­tion, and to im­prove or­gan preser­va­tion tech­niques for hu­man heart trans­plan­ta­tion.’’

Although sev­eral med­i­cal pro­ce­dures al­ready use ster­ilised pig tis­sues, such as heart valves in car­diac surgery and corneal trans­plants, doc­tors be­lieve that the use of full or­gans could end the des­per­ate donor short­age. Around 6000 peo­ple are cur­rently wait­ing for trans­plants in Bri­tain and more than 1,000 will die wait­ing for a life-sav­ing or­gan each year.

Christo­pher McGre­gor, pro­fes­sor of car­diac surgery, In­sti­tute of Car­dio­vas­cu­lar Science, UCL, said the study was a ‘‘sig­nif­i­cant land­mark’’.

He said: ‘‘In Europe, the need for heart donors is great and ex­ceeds the sup­ply from hu­man sources by at least ten fold.’’

How­ever, the trans­plants are likely to face ma­jor eth­i­cal ob­jec­tions, and the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion has pre­vi­ously warned of the dan­ger of in­ad­ver­tently trans­mit­ting un­recog­nised in­fec­tious agents into hu­mans from an­i­mals, which could then be passed to the wider pop­u­la­tion.

– Tele­graph Group

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