Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Human transplants from pigs

There's been some exciting transplant research emerging that is sure to have an impact on increasing the donor pool and getting more patients off waiting lists. Xenotransplantation could save thousands of patients waiting for donated organs. The animal organ, probably from a pig or baboon could be genetically altered with human genes to trick a patient’s immune system into accepting it as a part of its own body. They have re-emerged because of the lack of organs available and the constant battle to keep immune systems from rejecting allotransplants. Xenotransplants are thus potentially a more effective alternative. This article describes the success achieved with transplanting pig tissue.

HealthFirst -

Pigs make some of the best donors for human transplants.

HealthFirst reporter Leslie Toldo tells us why humans seem to thrive with at least one type of transplant from pigs.

We are talking about tissue transplants, and from hernias to plastic surgery, pigs are helping a lot of humans out.

A few years ago, moves like these didn't come easily for Chris Nelson. "I was having pain even standing for an extended period of time."

Nelson had a hernia in his groin. The muscle had torn. Instead of using donor tissue, doctors repaired it with material made from the small intestines of pigs.

"It did seem almost weird science or something like that," Nelson admitted.

"Pigs have been a very popular or common animal to use. Believe it or not, their genetic makeup is pretty close to humans," said bariatric surgeon Dr. Samer Mattar.

When placed on the torn tissue, the body uses the pig part as a scaffold or guide to remodel and repair itself. Over time, the pig's tissue is replaced by human tissue, providing a permanent repair.

"Over time, it's very hard to distinguish where the graft or the pig's tissues are versus the patient's," Mattar said.

Besides hernias, the pig tissue can be used in ulcer repair, wound care, plastic surgery and weight loss surgery. Doctors say, compared to a human donor, the pig tissue has less risk of causing an allergic reaction.

"No pain whatsoever. It's great," Nelson said.

"I would say my game's getting better, but I probably wouldn't be honest at that point."

But he's satisfied with simply feeling better.

There is a chance the body will see the animal based tissue as a foreign and reject it.

BACKGROUND: Human cells or tissue can be used for implantation, transplantation or infusion into a human recipient. A transplant occurs when a recipient's damaged or failing organ or tissue is replaced with a functioning one from a donor. Donors can be living or deceased. Organs that can be transplanted include the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and intestine. Bones, tendons, cornea, heart valves, veins and skin are types of tissues than can be transplanted.

RISKS: Rejection is a major concern with transplants. This happens when the body does not accept the transplanted organ or tissue. During rejection, the body's immune system attacks the transplanted organ or tissue, which causes failure of the transplant. The rejected organ or tissue must then be removed and the patient must wait for a different one. However, tissue transplants have a lower rejection rate than organ transplants.

According to the American Association of Tissue Banks, over the past 20 years, there have been more than 10 million tissue transplants. However, like many other medical procedures, tissue transplants carry their own risks. To lower these risks, tissue donors are screened and tested for a wide range of diseases. In addition, the tissue is thoroughly processed in systems that can destroy or inactivate any bacteria or viruses.

PIGS AS DONORS: Transplantations between two different species, such as pigs and humans, is known as xenotransplantation. Pig skin and pig valves have been used in human transplants, but not entire organs. Research shows when a tissue is torn in a human, the body can use tissue from a pig's small intestine as a guide to repair itself. Over a period of time, the pig tissue assists in regenerating the human tissue, forming a permanent repair. According to research found in the journal Transplantation, transplants from pigs might actually be safer than transplants from humans in the long run. Jeffrey Platt, M.D., head of the Transplantation Biology Program at the Mayo Clinic, says advanced organ screening for infections and other problems and the freedom to schedule surgery in advance may better prepare the patient's immune system for the foreign tissue.

One major concern with species-to-species transplants is transmission of animal disease to humans. However, studies have shown that pigs are healthier and carry fewer diseases than other animals. In addition, compared to other animals, their anatomies are more similar to humans.

“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”

Register to be a donor in Ontario or Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network. NEW for Ontario: - Learn The Ins & Outs Of Organ And Tissue Donation. Register Today! For other Canadian provinces click here

In the United States, be sure to find out how to register in your state at or Download Donor Cards from OrganDonor.Gov

In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register

In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register

Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves

Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant.


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