Transplanting animal cells into human beings produces benefits today

Keeping with the Xenotransplantation theme, there have been a number of stories recently about real world applications
for transplanting animal cells into human beings as well as transplanting
genetically altered human cells into human beings.

  • In late May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new
    skin graft product called Apligraf intended to be used initially in
    the treatment of venous skin ulcers. Apligraf is composed of human skin
    cells combined with collagen cells taken from cattle. The human cells
    come from the foreskins of newly circumcised infants.

    Venous skin ulcers affect thousands
    of Americans each year and require multiple surgeries to correct. Apligraf
    will speed the healing and recovery time after surgery. The product
    is currently undergoing clinical trials to discern its effectiveness
    in treating burns, diabetic ulcers and eventually bed sores.

  • At the end of July, Imutran, one of the leading companies doing xenotransplantation
    work, announced it would begin using pig livers to act as dialysis machines
    for human beings.

    “What we are thinking of doing
    is using the liver as a temporary support, outside the body, as a sort
    of dialysis machine for patients in liver failure to allow the doctors
    to buy time until a human organ becomes available for transplantation,”
    Dr. Corrine Savill, Imutran’s CEO, told BBC radio.

    About 50,000 people in Europe alone
    are waiting for transplants, with that number growing at 15 percent
    a year according to a Reuters News Service report.

  • In May a 20-year-old college student had a historic operation after
    his heart was removed from his body and fixed using animal tissue.

    Guy Altmann, a Texas A&M student,
    had a malignant tumor the size of a lemon lodged in his mitral valve.
    During the six-hour operation, his heart was stopped, removed and the
    tumor cut away. The mitral valve was rebuilt using heart tissue from
    a cow.

    “I feel a lot better than
    when I cam in,” Altmann told the Associated Press.

  • And what about the fear expressed by animal rights activists that
    xenotransplantation could lead to some outbreak of a previously unknown
    disease? An August report in the New Scientist magazine suggests
    that there have been no signs of transmission of such diseases in patients
    who have received cells from pigs for pancreatic disorders and Parkinson’s

    “The findings, based on screening
    samples from patients exposed to pig tissue, provide the first compelling
    evidence that dormant pig viruses do not spread to humans, causing new
    and incurable diseases,” the magazine reported.

    More research will need to be done,
    of course, but so far the worst fears of those opposed to xenotransplantation
    and genetic engineering are proving unfounded.


Drug that helps heal skin wounds wins FDA approval. Reuters News Service, May 26, 1998.

Company plans to use pig livers as human dialysis machines. Patricia Reaney, Reuters News Service, July 30, 1998.

Man has rare surgery: his heart is removed, fixed with animal tissue, put back in his chest. Mark Babineck, Associated Press, May 22, 1998.

Transfer of animal cells to humans shows promise. Reuters News Service, August 5, 1998.

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