Humans a step closer to pig heart transplants

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Scientists have revealed that the use of hearts taken from genetically modified pigs for use in patients waiting for transplants is a possibility.

A leading British scientist has stated that a breakthrough has been made in the research related to the transplant of animal organs into humans. This could become a possibility within the next two decades.

Experiments undertaken in America have shown that it is possible to keep a pig’s heart alive inside another animal for periods longer than 12 months by making use of a combination of new drugs and genetic modification.

Controversial research which was undertaken by NIH, the US national medical research agency, and led by Dr Muhammad Mohiuddin involved the transplantation of genetically engineered pigs’ hearts into baboon abdomens. The heart kept beating for 600 days.

Dr Mohiuddin said that this research will bring new hope for those patients waiting for donor organs from other humans.

This development has been termed as a massive breakthrough by Professor Chris Mason from the Department of Biochemical Engineering at University College London. He said that it is still very early days, the heart is not in a human and it has not even been placed in the position of a heart, but it is still a massive step forward.

In the UK, around 1000 patients die while waiting for a transplant and in view of this, Professor Mason welcomes the idea of farming pigs for the production of organs on demand. He said that this will take another 10, 15 or more years to come to fruition. The research has proven that a pig’s heart can be transplanted into a non-human primate without being rejected.

Anne Higgs, a heart attack victim who has been on a heart transplant waiting list for four years at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle stated that she would be willing to accept a pig’s heart. She said it would be another chance at life. She said she would take it and run all the way to the Freeman with her little heart.

Image Credit: Eric Schmuttenmaer

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