Xenotransplants

Organ Transplantation from Animals

“Scientists should be on tap but not on top” – Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)

What are they?

Xenotransplantation is the transplanting of organs from one species to another. In the current news, the subject really applies mainly to organs being transplanted form pigs to human beings.

Pigs are being genetically modified to grow organs that are less incompatible with humans than hitherto. The reality is that only a tiny part of the possible genetic incompatibility has been overcome.

It appears that, although we must ultimately accept mortality, the human race is not prepared to accept it without a fight. This means that there is a multi-million pound industry in organ transplants beckoning for entrepreneurs. As in so many fields, the lure of huge profits is not the father of common sense or restraint.

Are there dangers?

Pig viruses, not all of which are known or understood, could be very effectively transferred to the human population by this method. Devastating epidemics could occur. Tissue and organ incompatibility have not yet been overcome, despite the optimistic reports that are being filed. The same ethical and welfare considerations apply, as to animal experimentation, of which this work is a novel form.

Are there alternatives?

The alternative research is a little further behind but makes a lot more sense. Stem cells (cells which are able to differentiate into organs) can be derived from a patient. An organ can be regenerated in this way, from a recipient’s own tissues.

There are moves towards deriving stem cells from human embryos. This is not ethically acceptable to most people. Why do that, when the recipient can provide the necessary tissues?

In Norway, a large proportion of organ transplants come from healthy volunteers, thus reducing the waiting list and removing much of the pressure towards either xenotransplantation or stem cell work.

The huge financial cost of this research work could be put into education about lifestyle and diet, which would do much more for individual longevity and health than xenotransplantation.

Opinion

The AVMC is against the use of pigs (or other animals) to grow ‘human’ organs. There are strong scientific and ethical grounds for this opinion.