Pig organ transplants are not the answer

Recent news has touted the success of scientists to use genetic engineering on pigs, claiming this will make pig organs feasible for transplanting into humans.

Scientists have created gene-edited piglets that tested negative for viruses that could be transferred to humans.  Dr. George Church, a Harvard geneticist who led the experiments, claims that the first pig-to-human transplants could occur within the next two years. 

forced swim

This so-called solution to the organ crisis is fraught with health risks to humans and incredibly abusive to pigs and other animals who suffer through painfully invasive experiments. It is also inferior to work being done that shows real promise to bioengineer organs for human transplant using actual human cells and cutting-edge technology.

This isn’t the first time Dr. Church has claimed that pig organs are soon to be made available.  In 2017 he said, “we hope to do transplants to humans in under a year.”

In fact, scientists have been studying the transplantation of animal organs into humans – or xenotransplantation – since the 1990s but have continuously encountered serious problems, such as organ rejection and transmission of pig retroviruses.

In gruesome experiments, baboons receiving pig hearts died almost immediately upon transplantation, and researchers at the National Institute of Health (NIH) have implanted pig hearts into baboons, alongside the baboons’ own hearts.  Some companies are creating pig farms, raising hundreds of gene-edited pigs to be cruelly killed and their organs used as spare parts. 

In contrast to these hideous and exploitive animal experiments, significant advances are occurring in the field of regenerative medicine, which uses human cells and 3D printing to create complex tissues, precursors to 3D printed organs that can one day be transplanted into humans.

Before scientists can create whole organs, considerable advances are necessary. Work is currently underway at several institutions in the area of tissue engineering to fabricate more intricate tissues and at greater speed.

At Harvard University, scientists are generating complex tissues printed onto a connective grid, with channels that perfuse the tissue with nutritive fluids, while research being done in The Netherlands and Switzerland is dramatically shortening the speed of production down to mere seconds.

Remarkable results have been achieved by Chicago biotech firm BIOLIFE4D. Using a specialized bioink composed of human cells and an innovative printing algorithm, the company recently 3D printed a mini human heart with identical structure as a full-sized heart. The mini heart can be used for cardiotoxicity testing and to help advance heart disease treatments, and eventually, says CEO Steven Morris, to “3D bioprint full-sized hearts viable for transplant, and change the way heart disease is treated forever”.

Unlike gruesome pig organ experiments, as scientists continue to work towards creating viable, transplantable organs, regenerative medicine is already flourishing and saving lives.

Research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is using human pluripotent stem cells to grow organs for transplant. The researchers discovered that previous efforts to create viable organs were hampered by the presence of animal byproducts and have now bioengineered a liver free of animal products that is anticipated to enter a clinical trial to transplant a manufactured liver into a patient.

And advances in 3D printing have saved the lives of at least three babies. The children were afflicted with tracheobronchomalacia, a disorder that causes collapse of the airway and breathing failure. This was cured with a 3D printed, growth-flexible implant that replaced the defective trachea.

These ground-breaking applications of regenerative medicine are just the beginning, as scientists continue to make headway on creating actual 3D printed organs that can be implanted into humans, in many cases using the patient’s own cells to minimize rejection. This approach is far superior to the decades-long, ineffective and immensely cruel pursuit of pig-to-human transplants.

Citizens for Alternatives to Animal Research (CAARE), is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, established to highlight and promote research without animals.

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