Transplanting pig hearts into baboons might sound outlandish and like a science fiction novel, but this form of xenotransplantation is currently being studied as a case study in cross-species heart transplant technology.
A new immune suppressing therapy is the current topic of discussion, with organ rejection being the primary problem in most xenotransplantation studies. There is a large-scale, severe organ shortage faced by doctors, and according to organdonor.gov
, an average of 22 people die each day waiting for the organ that could have saved their life.
In addition to serving as replacements for faulty or damaged human organs, transplantation cross-species could also serve as a treatment for neurodegenerative disorders and diabetes (FDA
In a new study conducted at the National Heart, Lungs, and Blood Institute led by the University of Maryland School of Medicine and published in Nature Communications
, scientists are investigating the possibility that a treatment consisting of anti-CD40 antibody could be the key to helping the transplanted organ resist the immune response indefinitely, ensuring a healthy transition.
The study recruited 5 baboons to receive pig hearts, but as an additional organ rather than a replacement. The porcine donors were genetically modified prior to the transplantation procedure to have a high tolerance to the immune response. The experimental baboons, containing both their natural hearts and the transplanted hearts, successfully received their foreign organs, with both hearts pumping healthily for a record time of 945 days.
Co-author Richard Pierson has studied xenotransplantation for over 30 years.
“We obviously have a lot more work to do, but I'm confident that eventually this will be useful to human patients,” Pierson said.
Source: University of Maryland School of Medicine