Laszlo Balogh/Reuters
Hard Science

Baboons Receive Genetically Engineered Pig Hearts—And Survive for Over Two Years

We could one day be transplanting organs from other species.

June JavelosaApril 14th 2016

Organ Transplant

On any given day, 22 people in the US die because they are unable to receive the necessary organ needed for a transplant.  Scientists and researchers continue to work on ways to not only make the procedure more accessible, but to give humans better access to the organs that they need.

And now they just made progress in relation to one possible solution—taking it from another species…such as pigs.

Given the anatomical similarities between humans and pigs, scientists believe that it is possible, at least in theory, to use pig hearts to replace our own.

But the fact is, doctors already find it difficult to get human immune systems to accept organs from other humans, so many think that getting humans to accept organs from other animals would be extremely difficult (if not entirely impossible). But there is hope.

Have a Heart

Recently, scientists have managed to successfully engineer the genetics of pig organs so that it mimics human characteristics more closely, thus minimizing the possibility of rejection—and they’re testing it out on baboons.

To be clear, they’re not replacing baboon hearts with pig hearts…at least, not yet. Rather, they’re testing how well the new host is able to handle the foreign organ by implanting it into the baboon’s abdomen. It’s connected via the host’s circulatory systems.

Results from this study show that the implanted heart can survive for an average of 200 days, with a recent study reporting that it survived for a record of 945 days.

The study has been published in Nature Communications.

To continue with the study, researchers are now looking into what kind of drugs will allow hosts to maintain these transplanted organs more long term. And while a regular cocktail of immune-suppressants may not be ideal, it’s a choice that many organ recipients are willing to make, if it means that they will have access to the new organs they need.

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