Pig-to-human transplant 'in three years'

THE FIRST organ transplant from a pig to a human patient could take place in three years' time, according to two Cambridge scientists who lead the world in the use of genetically engineered animals in transplant surgery.

Encouraging results from attempting to breed genetically engineered pigs with organs that appear human to the immune system - which is responsible for tissue rejection - indicate that transplant surgery could be revolutionised sooner than was thought.

The aim is to be able to use hearts, lungs and other organs from pigs that produce key identifying proteins of the human immune system - which make tissue rejection by patients less likely.

Scientists believe that the proteins will prevent the 'highly complex cascade of events' that would cause the human immune system to punch holes in the cells of the transplanted heart or lungs. Using pigs as organ donors could also overcome the shortfall in human organs that has meant many ill patients going without transplants.

In size and anatomy, the organs of a pig are similar to those of humans. A 12-stone pig has a heart that is similar in size to that of a 12- stone man. Kidneys, lungs and insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are other candidates for transplants.

David White, lecturer in immunology at Cambridge University, said yesterday that the first 'transgenic' pigs, which have functional human genes, are now being reared with the prospect of being cross-bred with other transgenic swine. 'If all goes well we could start clinical trials with these pigs in three years' time.'

Dr White and John Wallwork, director of the heart-lung transplant team at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, are collaborating on the research with Imutran, a privately financed biotechnology company.

Dr Wallwork said that the first transgenic pig, a sow called Astrid, was born at the end of last year. Since then, 37 pigs in total have been born that are known to have the necessary human genes that make cross-species transplants feasible. 'These are the first pigs that have been specifically genetically engineered for transplantation purposes,' Dr Wallwork said. Pigs that can meet the increasing demand for organ transplants would solve the medical profession's dilemma: 'We are relying on well people to die for sick people to live.'

Dr White said that the public have had a distorted idea about the ethics of such work. 'Most people have not really understood the science of what we are doing. They thought we are somehow turning pigs into human beings. All we are doing is playing a rather subtle trick on the human immune system.'

The scientists point out that heart valves and skin from pigs are already used in transplants and so there should be no new ethical issues raised. However, Dr Wallwork said: 'If our society decides not to have anything to do with this then that is society's decision.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'