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Saturday, January 30, 1999 Published at 10:50 GMT


Sci/Tech

Setback for animal to human transplants

Pigs are genetically modified to make organs compatible with humans

By Corinne Podger of BBC Science

The Council of Europe has voted for a moratorium on clinical tests of animal organ transplants into human beings.

The decision will be a heavy blow to researchers working on the technique, known as "xenotransplantation". It also means the global shortage of human donor organs will have to be solved some other way.

Millions of dollars have already been poured into research on transplanting animal organs into humans.


[ image: Transplants postponed indefinitely until more is known]
Transplants postponed indefinitely until more is known
Most researchers have focused on pigs, which are highly compatible with humans - and by adding some human genes to specially bred pigs, it reduces the risk that transplanted animal organs will be rejected by their human recipients.

But researchers have run up against persistent problems. These involve a number of viruses which - while harmless to pigs - might pose serious health risks to humans, and possibly cause new human diseases.

While not banning the idea of animal organ transplants altogether, the council of Europe voted to ban clinical tests on real patients in Europe - and wants to see that ban extended worldwide.

As a result, any trials of the transplants, which might have gone ahead in Europe this year, have been indefinitely postponed until more is known about the potential hazards.

Ethics questions

The council also expressed concern about the ethics of animal organ transplants, both for humans, and for animal welfare.

With an international shortage of human organs for transplants, many people die while waiting in vain for an organ - like a heart or a liver - that they desperately need.

But with the council's decision, animal organs are not going to be the answer - at least in the short term.



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Internet Links


Transweb

UK Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority

ScienceNet: Animal to human transplants

Council of Europe


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