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Letters to the Editor

Gulf News, 25 February 2000

Creating havoc

From [Ms.] A. Fano, Director, Campaign for Responsible Transplantation New York, USA.

I refer to the letter "Be positive" from Mr. K.S. Al Nuaimi (Gulf News, February 21). Genetic engineers are rearranging DNA without a qualm, inserting animal genes into plants, human genes into animals and using viruses as vectors to deliver gene therapies.

Rather than provide cures, genetic engineering may create new forms of suffering and disease. Take xenotransplantation (animal-to-human organ, cell and tissue transplantation) for example. Multinational drug companies are breeding pigs with human genes and stand to make billions from sales of transgenic pig parts and anti-rejection drugs.

Public health authorities admit that xenotransplantation could transmit deadly animal viruses to patients and the general public. Baboon Cytomegalovirus was recently detected in stored tissue samples from a baboon liver recipient who died in 1992. Known pig viruses include the porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) [that] have infected human cells.

In 1998-99, the novel Malaysian "Nipah" virus jumped from pigs to humans, infected 269 people, killed 117, left dozens brain-damaged, and led to the mass slaughter of one million pigs. The swine flu epidemic of 1918 killed 20 million people worldwide. A pig virus, contracted via xenotransplantation, could spread undetected, causing an AIDS-like plague. The risks and costs of genetic engineering technologies like xenotransplantation must be debated publicly before they are allowed to proceed any further.