The prospect of humans being given transplanted hearts from other animals appeared to be a step closer after South Korean scientists reported they had successfully installed a pig’s heart in a monkey.
Researchers at the National Institute of Animal Science (NIAS) said the heart had been genetically modified to reduce the risk of being rejected by the crab-eating macaque.
It was still alive some 51 days after the procedure when the researchers reported their results, breaking the previous record of 43 days, according to a report by the Yonhap news agency.
The monkey was also given a cornea from the pig’s eye.
The pig, called Mideumi, was genetically engineered in 2010 to produce an excessive amount of a membrane protein that helps reduce the risk of the organ being rejected after transplantation.
Currently transplant patients have to take immune-suppressing drugs to stop their natural defence mechanisms from attacking the foreign body.
Finding a way to avoid this response would be a major breakthrough.
The NIAS said it also planned to work with a bioengineering firm to transplant pancreatic tissue from pigs to monkeys in an effort to find new ways to treat diabetes.
Pigs’ hearts, seen as a close match to the human version, have also been transplanted into other animals.
One was kept healthy and beating inside the abdomen of a baboon for nearly three years.
The baboon still had its original heart and did not need the pig’s one, but the fact it was able to survive for so long without being destroyed by its immune system was a significant accomplishment for the researchers.
Muhammad Mohiuddin, a cardiac transplant surgeon at National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, US, who lead the baboon study, told Science magazine: “People used to think that this was just some wild experiment and it has no implications.
“I think now we’re all learning that xenotransplantation in humans can actually happen.”
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