Frankenswine, or bringing home the bacon: How close are we to clinical trials in xenotransplantation?

David Kc Cooper
Organogenesis 2008, 4 (1): 1-10
Xenotransplantation-specifically from pig into human-could resolve the critical shortage of organs, tissues and cells for clinical transplantation. Genetic engineering techniques in pigs are relatively well-developed and to date have largely been aimed at producing pigs that either (1) express high levels of one or more human complement-regulatory protein(s), such as decay-accelerating factor or membrane cofactor protein, or (2) have deletion of the gene responsible for the expression of the oligosaccharide, Galalpha1,3Gal (Gal), the major target for human anti-pig antibodies, or (3) have both manipulations. Currently the transplantation of pig organs in adequately-immunosuppressed baboons results in graft function for periods of 2-6 months (auxiliary hearts) and 2-3 months (life-supporting kidneys). Pig islets have maintained normoglycemia in diabetic monkeys for >6 months. The remaining immunologic barriers to successful xenotransplantation are discussed, and brief reviews made of (1) the potential risk of the transmission of an infectious microorganism from pig to patient and possibly to the public at large, (2) the potential physiologic incompatibilities between a pig organ and its human counterpart, (3) the major ethical considerations of clinical xenotransplantation, and (4) the possible alternatives that compete with xenotransplantation in the field of organ or cell replacement, such as mechanical devices, tissue engineering, stem cell biology and organogenesis. Finally, the proximity of clinical trials is discussed. Islet xenotransplantation is already at the stage where clinical trials are actively being considered, but the transplantation of pig organs will probably require further genetic modifications to be made to the organ-source pigs to protect their tissues from the coagulation/anticoagulation dysfunction that plays a significant role in pig graft failure after transplantation in primates.

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