Tragically, one out of every three humans waiting for a donor transplant organ dies before one becomes available. Because humans seem reluctant to give up their organs even after death, scientists have turned to (guess where?) animals. This new science is called XT or xenotransplantation. Animals are now being bred with human genes, in other words being "humanized," to supply organs and tissue. Already 85 genetically altered mice, three rabbits, a sheep, a guinea pig, a fish and a cow have been patented with more to come. One of the mice can grow a human ear on its back.
Pigs are a frequent target of xenotransplantation experiments.
Its no longer science fiction to think that a creature, part animal and part human like the mythical chimera, could one day be born solely to supply replacement organs - its already a nightmarish possibility. A total of 160 humans worldwide have received animal tissue implantation and within a year a humanized pig liver will be used to support a patient waiting for a human organ. While having the utmost compassion for human beings who desperately need a transplant to live, the United Animal Nations believes the notion of intermingling species to be immoral and the effort to create and patent altered animals for profit a dreadfully dangerous idea. And we arent alone.
Multiple risks In 1997, the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) published their list of concerns, which should be shared by all humanity. Number one was the fear of cross infection, similar to the movement of the AIDS and Ebola viruses from primates in Africa to people. And there is plenty of historical evidence that viruses are capable of jumping the species barrier.
Swine flu epidemics in 1918, 1957 and 1968 killed millions. And this past spring in Australia two lab workers were infected with a previously unknown virus that caused deformity and still births in pigs, proving it impossible to screen animal organs for viruses we dont know exist. Theres conflict, too, in the scientific community between surgeons eager to harvest animal organs to save their patients and virologists afraid of the possibility of a plague to rival the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages. A further concern of FRAME is the susceptibility of non-human organs to non-human diseases after transplant. As of now, we have no knowledge of the extent of this danger.
Finally, FRAME questioned whether the transplanted animal organ will grow at the rate appropriate for its new human host or if it will retain its animal growth characteristics, which just might be those of a 400-pound hog. We simply dont know. There are more concerns, but you can see the major health dangers. Isnt it time to stop the headlong rush into a Frankenstein future of dark science, the consequences of which we can hardly imagine, let alone prepare for?
Putting the brakes on In Great Britain the Kennedy Commission, a group of scientific experts, recommended suspending xenotransplantation research until the potential dangers to humans have been studied. Thats a start. But, as animal advocates, we need to push for suspending research until the ethical questions of humanizing animals to become our organ donors have been answered, or at least aired. Another worry. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will oversee animal organ transplants. This is the same agency faulted by the General Accounting Office for its failure to track patients who may have received human tissue infected with HIV and other viruses. Can we trust them to track XT organs?
It wont be easy to draw the line on xenotrans-plantation as we approach the 21st Century. This is cutting edge science and the pharmaceutical companies are investing millions in hopes of reaping billions. The immediate solution, of course, is for there to be a huge increase in human donors, which requires that we fill out organ donor cards to carry in our wallets. And at the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves what kind of world we want and what price we will ask of the animals to achieve it?