GENTECH archive


Setback for animal to human transplants

            BBC Saturday, January 30, 1999 Published at 10:50 GMT 

            Setback for animal to human transplants 

            Pigs are genetically modified to make organs compatible
            with humans 

            By Corinne Podger of BBC Science 

            The Council of Europe has voted for a
            moratorium on clinical tests of animal organ
            transplants into human beings. 

            The decision will be a heavy blow to
            researchers working on the technique, known
            as "xenotransplantation". It also means the
            global shortage of human donor organs will
            have to be solved some other way. 

            Millions of dollars have already been poured
            into research on transplanting animal organs
            into humans. 

                            Most researchers have
                            focused on pigs, which
                            are highly compatible
                            with humans - and by
                            adding some human
                            genes to specially bred
                            pigs, it reduces the risk
                            that transplanted animal
                            organs will be rejected
                            by their human

                            But researchers have
                            run up against persistent
            problems. These involve a number of viruses
            which - while harmless to pigs - might pose
            serious health risks to humans, and possibly
            cause new human diseases. 

            While not banning the idea of animal organ
            transplants altogether, the council of Europe
            voted to ban clinical tests on real patients in
            Europe - and wants to see that ban extended

            As a result, any trials of the transplants, which
            might have gone ahead in Europe this year,
            have been indefinitely postponed until more is
            known about the potential hazards. 

            Ethics questions 

            The council also expressed concern about the
            ethics of animal organ transplants, both for
            humans, and for animal welfare. 

            With an international shortage of human organs
            for transplants, many people die while waiting in
            vain for an organ - like a heart or a liver - that
            they desperately need. 

            But with the council's decision, animal organs
            are not going to be the answer - at least in the
            short term.