Ha'aretz, Friday, August 18, 2000
What Price Porcine Transplants? Regarding "Spare-Part Piglets Split Local Rabbis," Anglo File, August 11
There is no evidence to suggest that organs from pigs (genetically modified or otherwise) will function in humans. Pig kidneys, hearts and livers have been transplanted into humans almost a dozen times since 1960 and all the patients have died in a matter of hours or days because of hyperacute rejection. This problem may never be overcome.
Contrary to what we've been told, pigs and humans are not physiologically similar. In 1998, in the "Journal of Anatomy" (Vol. 193, pp.105-19), Simon J. Crick and colleagues stated that, "Several potentially significant differences exist between porcine and human hearts [which must be] considered as the arguments continue concerning the use of transgenic pig hearts for xenotransplantation." In 1999, in "Transplantation Proceedings" (Vol. 31, pp.905-8), M.E. Breimer described physiological incompatibilities between humans and pigs, including differences in anatomy, physiology, immunology, pharmacology and metabolism.
Although researchers want to clone pigs for xenotransplants, new data suggest that cloned animals could age prematurely and be more prone to cancer and other diseases. Because cloning technology is imprecise, hundreds or thousands of pigs are killed to produce a few animals with desired genetic traits. And at least 100 pig fetuses may be required for one infusion of pig islet cells into one diabetic patient, for example, though there is no proof of long-term safety or efficacy.
The fact that animals' interests don't seem to figure into the xenotransplantation equation is a sad commentary on our collective humanity.
There are better ways to solve the perceived organ and tissue shortage: Cutting down on bacon and pork chops and cigarettes and alcohol, to prevent disease before it begins, and to shrink the number of people on transplant waiting lists, is the safest, cheapest and most effective option. Another is doing all we can to increase human organ donation.
Scientists and legislators around the world have acknowledged that xenotransplantation could facilitate the transmission of known or as yet unrecognized animal viruses to humans. This admission, coupled with recent gene therapy disasters, AIDS and "Mad Cow Disease," should tell us that transplants from animals must be banned before it's too late.