Xeno-Transplantation: The Ultimate Organ Factory

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Xeno-Transplantation: The Ultimate Organ Factory

Some of the biggest and most important medical success stories from the second half of the 20th century involve organ transplants. However, the quantity of organs needed still outpaces the quantity supplied by a wide margin and, as the population ages, the gap will get wider still. Just consider these statistics:

  • Currently, the United Network for Organ Sharing shows nearly 112,000 U.S. candidates on a waiting list for transplants. But, less than 30,000 will receive transplants this year.1
  • According to the National Institutes of Health, 3,000 Americans are now waiting for fewer than 2,000 hearts that will become available this year.2
Generating Rat-Mouse Chimeras

Generating Rat-Mouse Chimeras

Moreover, there is no effective market mechanism for the allocation of the limited supply of organs.

One approach suggested for addressing this shortage is to increase awareness of, and participation in, organ donor programs. Unfortunately, it is estimated that this would still not provide anywhere near the number of organs needed today or the much larger number needed in the future. Evidence seems to indicate that China is executing prisoners at an accelerated pace in order to meet the organ demands of the Chinese elite, as well affluent
foreigners.3

One more humane avenue that's been talked about for decades is so-called xeno-transplantion. This is the transplantation of organs and tissue from one species to another. For humans, the most likely animal donors are pigs, due to their comparable size, their rapid growth, and the physiological similarity of their organs to ours.4

A major hurdle with any transplantation, but particularly xeno-transplantion, is the rejection of organs as the result of antibodies in the recipient's immune system, which attack the donated tissue. Strides have been made to overcome this problem, but other serious roadblocks remain, including incompatibilities between human and pig anti-coagulation mechanisms, and the potential presence of pathogens that can be deadly to humans, such as those that lead to mad cow disease.

Now, however, a novel new approach has been developed that would eliminate all of these problems...

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