Home Medicine More people need transplants than there are organ donors. Pigs might be a solution

More people need transplants than there are organ donors. Pigs might be a solution

by admin

Last summer, after more than a decade of illness, Lawrence Faucette and his wife, Ann, faced the hard reality that the end of his life was near.

He was 58 and had end-stage heart failure. Peripheral artery disease made him ineligible for a heart transplant.

After a particularly grueling week at the hospital, where doctors were unable to get his heart function where it needed to be, he decided he’d had enough. He chose to leave, figuring he’d rather die at home.

But before he could go, one last doctor came to talk to him. For two hours, she went over what she was seeing and for the first time, Ann said, really giving straight answers about his condition.

During that long conversation, the doctor asked an unusual question: Would they ever consider xenotransplantation?

“Initially, we had no idea what they meant, but we were interested in anything,” Ann said.

Ann and Larry knew a bit about the science. They had met three decades earlier while attending medical laboratory school when they both were in the military. They understood that xenotransplantation meant transplanting tissue from one animal to a different species. They knew that doctors have long used pig valves to repair the human heart.

But what was being offered now was different: A healthy heart could be transplanted into Larry from a pig that had been genetically modified to make its organs a better fit for humans.

Searching on his phone during their drive back home to Frederick, Maryland, Larry learned that this kind of transplant had been tried on only one other living person. There were no guarantees that it would work for him, and doctors didn’t know how long it would last.

The need for more transplant organs is immense and growing. Some scientists think animal organs might be a good way to increase the supply, but the science has been stalled as researchers tried to figure out how to prevent organ rejection and avoid dangerous infections. They also have to untangle complicated ethical questions, including how to test such organs.

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