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Pig heart transplant on baboon makes history

Thursday 13th December 2018
A new experiment with a pigs heart transplant has made significant medical progress, but porcine transplants into humans are still some way off.
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The use of pig hearts in humans may have moved nearer after a baboon survived 195 days after having the organ transplanted into it.

A team of researchers in Munich, Germany revealed for the first time that one of the apes was able to survive for months with a pig's heart, leading the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to state that this "could one day pave the way for pig hearts to be used in humans".

However, the BHF noted, there is still a long way to go. Associate medical director at the BHF Professor Jeremy Pearson noted that the "aspiration" to use pig hearts in transplants has existed for over 40 years, but has turned out to be a "difficult journey", mainly because of the risk of organ rejection.

The genetic modification of pigs has helped overcome this particular issue, he said, but it is not yet clear whether long-term problems will arise and much more study will be required to clarify whether all these potential problems can be overcome.

"To be seriously considered for use in humans, studies will have to demonstrate greater success than a mechanical pumping device, and ensure that potential safety complications due to viral transmission from the transplanted heart to the recipient can be discounted,” he explained.

While work goes on involving pigs, the NHS is seeking to increase the supply of hearts and other organs by raising the number of donors among the black and Asian communities.

It has noted that among some ethnic minority groups, cultural or religious concerns about donations have led to fewer people becoming willing donors, even though none of the major religions express an opposition to the practice.

However, under the new guidelines those who join the organ donor register are asked if they want their religious or cultural beliefs to be taken into account in the process, in a bid to dispel fears about how organs may be re-used.

Written by Matthew Horton

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