April 09, 2006
Pigs For Xenotransplant Organs

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and biotech company Revivicor are attempting to revive efforts to genetically engineer pigs to make organs for xenotransplantation into humans. Writing for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Luis Fabregas covers a lot of territory in a survey of the UPMC-Revivicor efforts. Human trials for some types of transplants might be just a few years off.

Momentum is building for two promising projects.

One is using insulin-making pig islets to bolster the insulin levels of people with type 1 diabetes, something routinely done in at least one hospital in Mexico City. In the last five years, about 40 patients at Children's Hospital of Mexico have received the pig islet transplants. Some of them have significantly reduced their insulin intake, said spokeswoman Isis Casanova.

Researchers at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, led by Dr. Massimo Trucco, have been testing pig islets in small monkeys since 2004.

Another project would use pig hearts in people with severe heart failure instead of mechanical pumps.

By Revivicor's own estimates, the market for pig organs could be worth at least $6 billion.

The intensity of UPMC's efforts, including discussions between Revivicor and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, suggest UPMC is poised to begin human clinical trials within two or three years.

Revivicor's pigs have been genetically modified to not produce alpha-1-galactose sugar which causes human immune rejection. Much more could be done along those lines to make pig organs more like human organs in order to enhance compatibility. This strikes me as a direction that ought to get huge amounts of funding.

Pigs have a virus incorporated into their genomes called porcine endogenous virus (PERV) which could potentially infect humans. But such viruses could be knocked out of pigs genetically engineered for organ production. At the same time, a variety of human genes could get transplanted into pigs to make them have immune systems, livers, and other organs more like humans. It is a lot of work. All the more reason to start doing in sooner and on a greater scale.

Every day that goes by your organs all get one day older and closer to failure. If we start trying a lot harder now many of us could get youthful organs transplanted from pigs when our own organs get old and start to fail. Time's a wasting. Time is wasting our body parts and making them slowly break down. We ought to develop the means to repair and replace old human body parts.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 April 09 09:13 PM  Biotech Organ Replacement

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