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Xenotransplantation


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Xenotransplantation

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Photo credit: Uncaged Campaigns, Organ Farm

Xenotransplanatation is the use of animal organs for transplants in human patients. The idea to take organs from animals and to transplant them in humans is not new. To date, all attempts to transplant animal organs in humans have failed and have led to the death of the patient, due to the violent immune response that resulted in rejection of the transplanted organ.

 

In an attempt to bypass the acute rejection problem, researchers in the U.S. and the UK have been developing genetically engineered pigs lacking some major antigens (proteins which elicit an immune response). These researchers argue that these transgenic pigs could provide organs and thus solve the shortage of organs for transplants in humans.

 

By itself, xenotransplanatation is not animal experimentation. Rather, this approach uses animals as a source for organs, just like the meat industry uses farm animals as a source for flesh. However, in order to test the feasibility and safety of xenotransplantation, the genetically engineered pig organs are transplanted into primates, mainly baboons, who suffer enormously during experimental procedures. In addition, the process of genetically engineering pigs also involves invasive and potentially painful procedures.

 

In 2001, the United Kingdom Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority, appointed by the British government, concluded that the chances of xenotransplantation becoming a successful procedure are very small. The professional committee noted that if xenotransplantation were to become an everyday procedure, the danger of pig viruses mutating and producing novel diseases in humans would be unacceptably high.

 

Xenotransplantation should be rejected also on the grounds that the organ shortage problem has a straightforward solution. Campaigns to encourage organ donation are one option. Another is to assume consent unless the deceased ordered that his/her organs should not be used. This approach is followed in some European countries, including Austria, Belgium, and France, and has resulted in reducing the list of patients waiting for transplants. In addition, preventive health measures, such as education on proper nutrition, can reduce the risk of chronic diseases that lead to organ malfunction, thereby eliminating the need for transplants in the first place.

 

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