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Baboons With Pig Heart Transplants Can Now Survive For 2 Years; Are Humans Next?

Apr 11, 2016 05:28 AM EDT

The National Institutes Of Health (NIH) are experimenting on transplants using non-human organs. They execute pig-to-primate transplants in baboons, putting hearts from genetically engineered pigs. For years, the baboons rejected the pig hearts, but recent findings show that there is hope in this technology. A baboon lived for more than two years without rejecting the transplant, surpassing the longest record of 298 days. 

Based on the statistics by Organ Donor, there are 79 successful organ transplants each day. However, 22 people die in the U.S. while waiting for organ donors daily. That's why the need for alternative heart donors, dubbed as xenotransplantation, is of vital importance today. The researchers believe that genetically-engineered organs can alleviate death due to the lack of organ donors.

According to Medscape, xenotransplantation involves transplanting non-human tissues or organs into human recipients. It is a concept developed years ago but has always been refuted because, in most cases, the human body rejects non-human transplants. However, the baboon with a transplanted pig's heart will change that.

The scientists and researchers were driven by the "supply and demand" ratio to fully develop the potential of using genetically engineered organs in human beings. Science Magazine reported that five baboons were given pig heart transplants from genetically engineered pigs. The new record was set when one of the baboons survived and lived a total of 945 days or more than two years, as per Tech Times.

Nature Communications released the results of the pig-to-primate experiment. The researchers said that to be able to help the baboons to survive, they used a specially designed combination of treatments and drugs, which includes "induction with anti-thymocyte globulin and αCD20 antibody, followed by maintenance with mycophenolate mofetil and an intensively dosed αCD40 (2C10R4) antibody." This resulted to the baboons' extended survival rate from 298 to 945 days.

In an interview with Science Magazine, Muhammad Mohiuddin, a cardiac transplant surgeon said, "People used to think that this was just some wild experiment and it has no implications. I think now we're all learning that (xenotransplantation in humans) can actually happen."

Science Explorer noted that the NIH believes that their efforts will eventually save thousands of lives. The technology, however, will have to be further scrutinized and perfected before a successful pig-to-human transplant would be possible. Nevertheless, recent results show that mankind is one step closer to that dream.

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