Transplanting Pig Hearts Into Human Beings? It Could Be A Reality By 2021

It is predicted that the first pig-to-human heart transplant could take place as early as the end of 2021.


By Jeevan Biswas, International Business Times

October 10, 2020


The biggest hurdle faced by patients requiring organ transplants is the shortage of organ donors, with patients having to wait for over six months or more to be able to find one. This wait can be the decisive factor in their prognosis. However, a review states that hearts harvested from pigs could soon solve the drastic shortage of donor organs, and save and prolong lives.


A review paper by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) outlines the recent breakthroughs in the area of cardiac xenotransplantation—implantation of hearts from one species into another.


They highlighted the advancements in genetic engineering and the development of drugs that enabled the successful transplantation of pig hearts into baboons in Germany. Dr. Richard N. Pierson III, lead author of the paper, predicted that the first pig-to-human heart transplant could happen as early as the end of 2021.


Overcoming Obstacles of Immune Responses


In the paper, the authors discuss the quantum leaps that have aided in the overcoming of obstacles faced in cardiac xenotransplantation. An example is the recent transplantation of heart from pigs to baboons.


The immune systems of primates such as baboons identify pig hearts as "foreign" and launch an attack against them. This leads to organ rejection. To mitigate this, scientists have utilized genetic engineering techniques to create pigs with organs that lack specific carbohydrates that serve as the key target for the immune system.


Concerns of Blood Clots


Experiments have also shown that proteins in the lining of pig blood vessels and proteins in human blood are incompatible, and result in the formation of blood clots or thrombosis. The authors have also contributed to the development and testing of pigs that are designed to possess genes that responsible for the production of the human variant of a protein known as thrombomodulin, which moderates clotting.


Recipients of organ transplants are required to take medications to suppress the immune system and prevent the rejection of organs. "But those drugs don't work when you put a pig organ into a baboon," said Dr. Pierson.


Development of Drugs to Counter Thrombosis ...


more, including links