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Tuesday, 1 August, 2000, 00:14 GMT 01:14 UK
Animal organ transplant 'breakthrough'
Organ Box
More than 5,000 people in the UK await transplants
A discovery by scientists in London could pave the way for animal organs to be successfully transplanted into humans.

A team of researchers at the city's Hammersmith Hospital has discovered a way to prevent the body's immune system from rejecting foreign organs.

Previous work successfully targeted this immune response. However, it had a knock-on effect on the body's entire immune system, leaving the patient open to infection and disease.

But scientists at Hammersmith have successfully stopped the immune response, without the knock-on effect.

They succeeded by preventing a crucial molecular interaction between the host and foreign cells.

This means that the body no longer identifies transplanted cells as being foreign.

Organ shortages

The discovery could pave the way for thousands of people to receive animal organs.

Professor Robert Lechler, head of the immunology team at the Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust, said the finding could solve the problem of organ shortages.

"Our findings offer a novel solution in the battle to get foreign organs accepted by human bodies.

"Our first models using cells from the pancreas have been successful and we are now taking these findings on to further more complex models.

"Eventually we hope that using foreign organs in humans may start to solve the huge shortage of organ donors across the world. "

Lord Winston, director of research and development at Hammersmith Hospital, praised the work.

Using animal organs for human transplant is several years away

Prof Andrew Bradley, British Transplantation Society

"Several thousand people a year die awaiting organ transplants in this country and there are probably more patients who because of the shortage of donors never get on the waiting list.

"This remarkable work is a major advance in obtaining donor organs which could save many lives every year."

Professor Andrew Bradley, president of the British Transplantation Society, said the biggest barrier to using animal organs in human transplant operations had been problems with the immune system.

"The biggest problems have been immunological. Until the last five years, organs have been rejected in a matter of minutes.

"Over the course of the last five years, this has been overcome and that has now meant that we have to address some of the other problems that arise, in particular infection."

He suggested that using animal organs for donations remained a few years off.

"A possible realist view is that using animal organs for human transplant is several years away."

Almost 1,500 people have undergone transplant operations in the UK so far this year.

However, a further 5,500 are awaiting suitable organs.

The Hammersmith study is published in the latest issue of the clinical journal Nature Immunology.

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15 May 00 | Health
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