Scientists say that a pig heart was kept alive in a baboon for over 2 years.
The result could open the way for transplanting animal organs into people, in the midst of human donors’ shortage.
Cross-species transplants usually lead to strong immune system reaction which makes the organ be rejected by the host.
But a US-German team combined immune-suppression and gene modification to achieve the results.
“It is very significant because it brings us one step closer to using these organs in humans,” co-author Muhammad Mohiuddin, from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Maryland, told the AFP news agency.
“Xenotransplants – organ transplants between different species – could potentially save thousands of lives each year that are lost due to a shortage of human organs for transplantation.”
There was no replacement of the monkeys’ heart but rather were connected to the circulatory system through 2 large blood vessels that were based in the abdomen.
As the heart of the baboon went on with its role of pumping blood, the pig’s heart beat like a normal heart. This method is commonly used to study organ rejection.
Since primates have a close relationship with the humans, they were taken to be the best donor candidates. However, there is a limit in the number of captive-bred apes and takes a long time to grow and mature. Some like chimpanzees are endangered.
A problems that arise due to their proximity to human race is inter-species disease transmission and ethical questions.
Their genetic closeness also poses a higher danger of inter-species disease transmission, as well as ethical questions.
Pigs have emerged to be better donors because the anatomy of their hearts is similar to ours. They also mature fast while the problem of disease transmission is taken out of question.
The authors wrote a paper in which they tackled the treatment programmed that can prevent organ rejection: “In our opinion, this regimen appears potentially safe for human application for patients suffering from end-stage organ failure who might be candidates for initial trials of xenotransplantation.”