:: Nelson Erlick

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Xenotransplantation: Why We Should

Xenotransplantation, as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is "any procedure that involves the transplantation, implantation, or infusion into a human recipient of either (a) live cells, tissues, or organs from a nonhuman animal source, or (b) human body fluids, cells, tissues or organs that have had ex vivo contact with live nonhuman animal cells, tissues or organs."

Xenotransplantation (pronounced ZEENO-transplantation) is the process of transferring (transplanting) organs, tissues, or cells from one animal to another. The term comes from combining "xeno", the Greek world for stranger, with the word "transplant". By transferring, we mean transplanting, implanting, or infusing organs, tissues, or cells from one species of animal to another---or to a human being. These days, the likely source of animal organs for humans is genetically-engineered pigs (primarily small swine).

The FDA defines several different types of xenotransplants. (1) Solid organ xenotransplant, which is removing an organ, such as a kidney, liver, lung, or heart, from a donor animal (pig) and transplanting it into people. (2) Cellular or tissue xenotransplant, which is grafting tissues or cells (such as islet [insulin-producing] cells) from a donor animal and grafting or implanting it directly into the organ of a recipient (such as the pancreas of a person with type 1 diabetes). (3) External therapies, which is filtering and/or purifying human blood cells outside of the body through an animal organ (such as a kidney) or cells in an external device. (4) Human/animal hybrid, which is human cells grown in culture with non-human animal cells that are then transplanted back into human patients.

Plus, there are "non-living" animal tissues, such as pig heart valves, that have been used for repairing hearts in humans for many years.
(A great deal of "xenotransplantation" takes place in laboratory experiments, particularly in the field of cancer where human tumor cells may be transplanted into mice or other animals to see if a possible anti-cancer agent will work. That’s not part of this discussion.)

Want a reason why we SHOULD perform xenotransplants? I’ll give you a hundred thousand.
As of today, in the US, there are 63,486 patients waiting for a kidney, 17,472 waiting for a liver, 3323 waiting for a lung, 3075 waiting for a heart, and 1688 waiting for a pancreas.

In Europe, there are 11,938 waiting for a kidney, 2055 waiting for a liver, 866 waiting for a heart, and 688 waiting for a lung.
(If you want to see the waiting list for your country, use the appropriate link from my website: http://www.nelsonerlick.com/html/explore_xenotrans_faqs.html.)
Many will never receive a suitable organ in time.

And no matter how many people donate, with current demographic trends, it’s unlikely we’ll ever be able to match supply and demand.

Once established, xenotransplantation would be able to fill that demand. And with competition, in the end, pharmacoeconomic analyses would undoubtedly show that it would save money compared to patients undergoing kidney dialysis for years on end.

And let’s not forget that there is a major black market for healthy organs in the Third World.

Wouldn’t it be safer to obtain your organ from a certified xenotransplant "sacrifice" center, rather than from some person, perhaps living in squalor or disease, who had never previously had medical care? Let alone the moral issue of taking a kidney from some poor soul (who by no fault of his own) sells it to fit his starving family for a year while he likely develops medical complications that may eventually kill him?

In addition, cell or tissue xenotransplants (as opposed to solid organs) could be used to treat diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson disease, and/or Huntington disease.
From the origin of civilization, humankind has used animals to feed, clothe, and shelter itself. As part of cultural and religious ceremonies and rites of passage. To improve physical strength and sexual prowess. Why not then use them to cure the desperately ill?

---For FAQs on xenotransplantation: http://www.nelsonerlick.com/html/explore_xenotrans_faqs.html.
---For links on xenotransplantation:
---Dr. Nelson Erlick
Author, The Xeno Solution and GermLine


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