Pig Hearts Could Be Used In Human Transplants Within Three Years
Sir Terence English, 87, performed Britain's first ever successful heart transplant 40 years ago, and now believes 'xenotransplantation' (transplanting organs or tissue from one species to another) could be the next step.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, English said his mentee from the groundbreaking 1979 operation will attempt to replace a human kidney with a pig's before the end of this year - something he thinks could pave the way for similar, yet more complicated organ transplants.
He told the newspaper: "If the result of xenotransplantation is satisfactory with porcine kidneys to humans then it is likely that hearts would be used with good effects in humans within a few years.
"If it works with a kidney, it will work with a heart. That will transform the issue."
English thinks such treatments could help eradicate the donor waiting list, where the demand for donor organs for transplantation significantly outweighs the supply.
According to the Daily Mail, 280 people in the UK are currently waiting for a heart.
Due to such shortages, scientists have been looking into alternative sources for replacement organs, with pig organs believed to be a particularly suitable substitute as they are of a similar size to those of humans.
Xenotransplantation is seen by many within the scientific community as the future of organ transplants, with the World Health Organisation defining the procedure as 'living cells, tissues or organs of animal origin and human body fluids, cells, tissues or organs that have with these living, xenogeneic materials, has the potential to constitute an alternative to material of human origin and bridge the shortfall in human material for transplantation'.
Professor Christopher McGregor from the University of Alabama, who was the senior registrar for English, has gone on to make two 'knock-out' genes that might allow pig organs to be used in humans - a method he believes could work for a kidney transplant within just a few months.
English added: "There will be animal rights people who will say it's entirely wrong.
"But if you can save a life isn't that maybe a bit better?"
Harvard University geneticist George Church - who is also the co-founder and adviser of US-based firm eGenesis - is another working on the adaptation of pig organs to make them suitable for human patients.
Church and his colleagues have been using the CRISPR gene editing technique in order to modify pig organs so they are less likely to be rejected.
Once these have been modified, researchers are testing the viability of such organs after transplanting them into monkeys at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.
"What we're doing is a necessary step," said James Markmann, Massachusetts General's Chief of Transplant Surgery and an eGenesis adviser.
"We'd be hard-pressed to put a modified organ into a human until it's been tested in a large animal."
Featured Image Credit: PA