Study will be key to pig transplants

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Research due to be published by next autumn could determine whether it is safe to transplant genetically engineered pigs' hearts and kidneys into humans.

The work, being led by Professor David Onions of the Glasgow Veterinary School, aims to see whether DNA in the pigs' organs would manufacture Aids-like retroviruses which could be reproduced in humans with unpredictable effects.

The research is now underway in association with Cambridge-based company Imutran, which has bred genetically engineered pigs whose organs should not create the "hyperacute rejection" that a normal pig's tissue would in a human. "If the result is negative, then I would think we could go ahead with transplants," Professor Onions said yesterday.

But they would first have to overcome a series of regulatory and legal barriers set up yesterday by the Government with the publication of the Kennedy committee's report into "xenotransplantation".

The Government, responding to the report, yesterday announced a moratorium on xenotransplants because of fears expressed by the committee of unleashing potentially devastating diseases comparable with Aids or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) on the human population. It appointed the former Archbishop of York, Lord Habgood of Calverton - a trained pharmacologist - to chair a new body, the UK Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority, to police future developments.

The Department of Health said that new laws to govern xenotransplantation would be introduced as soon as possible. But that will almost certainly be after the general election. In the meantime, the Government has made it clear that emergency legislation would be brought in if necessary to halt human trials.