Animals could become human organ donors
Doctors may have a way to one day help the thousands of people waiting on transplant lists: use animal organs. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have successfully transplanted hearts from genetically engineered pigs into baboons with suppressed immune systems to prevent organ rejection. The hearts lasted in the baboons for 500 days.
This practice, known as xenotransplantation, is in its infancy and still has major obstacles. The biggest challenge is tissue rejection. This is why the scientists had to use genetically engineered pigs, so certain genes in the tissue that are known to not be compatible with others were excluded. Pigs were chosen for the experiment because their anatomy is similar to humans and they also grow rapidly.
The hearts were placed into the abdomen of the baboons. They didn't replace the baboons' original hearts, but they were connected to their circulatory systems. Next, doctors plan to actually replace the baboon hearts with the pig hearts. Other organs that could eventually be harvested from animals for human transplant, according to the researchers, include liver, kidneys, pancreas and lungs.