Friday, November 7, 2008

In a Pig's eye

Okay then, this is great news. But is it kosher?

Or even, will Muslims who also follow many of the same dietary laws, allow themselves to receive a transplanted organ from a pig as well?

Pig organs ‘available to patients in a decade’
Lewis Smith, Science Reporter

Organs from pigs could be widely available for transplanting into patients in a decade, Lord Winston said yesterday.
The first organs suitable for transplanting, most likely kidneys, are expected to be ready within three years and, if tests are successful, their use could be widespread by 2018.

A herd of as few as 50 pigs is expected to be kept as breeding stock to provide organs “to order” and to slash waiting times for thousands of people needing transplants.
Professor Winston, of Imperial College, London, and his collaborator, Carol Readhead, of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, are leading research into transplanting animal organs into people.

They are attempting to breed pigs that have been genetically modified so that porcine organs are accepted by the human body instead of being immediately rejected.
Human immune systems are quick to react to “foreign bodies” but the scientists are confident that they are close to modifying the genetic make-up of pigs to “humanise” their organs and make animal-to-human transplants possible.

The humanisation process of the organs is expected to be achieved by breeding genes into the pigs, probably by injecting them directly into the parent boar’s testicles, that provoke a greatly reduced response in the patient’s immune system.

Patients who received pig organs would have to take immune suppressant drugs for the rest of their lives, but no more than those who received organ transplants from other people.
Dr Readhead said it was comparatively easy to bring about such genetic modification in mice, but the process is much harder in pigs and other large animals.

A “mini-pig” weighing about 100kg has been selected for the research because, while a quarter of the size of most of those grown for the meat industry, they are big enough to have organs of a similar size to adult human beings.

Pigs are regarded as ideal for animal-to-human transplants, xenotransplantation, and other research because of the similarity in the physiological make-up and because they get many of the same diseases, such as diabetes.

Dr Readhead said: “Our interest was to try to make transgenic pigs for biomedical research to understand human diseases better and eventually to try to make their organs suitable for xenotransplantation.”

Professor Winston said that “organs that might be transplantable” could be ready “within two to three years” and on the basis that research went smoothly they would be fully licensed and tested in as little as ten years. He expected the first “proof of principle” pigs to be bred next year.

Two months ago he hit out at the “red tape” blocking the project’s progress in Britain. Under UK and EU rules, his team has been banned from mating and producing offspring from the transgenic pigs. Research in developing transgenic pigs is now likely to move to the US where the regulatory system is more relaxed.

The new strain of pig, which once established would retain its genetic modifications from generation to generation, is expected to take £3 million to develop over the next five years.
He said that transplants were one of several potential benefits from the research. Others include enabling drugs which today have to be tested on people during late development phases to be tested on animals, avoiding reactions such as that suffered during trials at Northwick Park

Hospital in 2006 when six volunteers almost died. Dr Readhead said kidneys are likely to be the first pig organs that researchers attempt to transplant into a sick human. “The kidney is a really good candidate,” she said. “There’s a huge shortage and it would make a big difference.”