Using Cow Veins to Improve Human Health

Although Xenotransplantation may seem like an exotic new turn in medical research, but in fact researchers have been doing it for years. When infants are born with defective heart valves, for example, transplants from cows are routinely used to reinforce the heart.

Now researchers at the Toledo Hospital’s Jobst Vascular Center successfully transplanted the jugular van of a cow to replace the weakened femoral vein of a man.

The femoral vein is a major vein in the upper leg that regulates blood flow to the heart. When it is weakened, it results in a condition called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). The weakened valve makes it difficult for blood to continue up to the heart, causing it to pool in the lower leg leading to extremely painful ulcers.

Why the jugular vein of a cow? “The neck vein of a cow is very similar in size to the femoral vein,” Dr. Hugh Beebe, director of the Vascular Center, told CNN. The bovine vein is treated with drugs before the transplant operation to prevent the body from rejecting it.

Several other hospitals are also experimenting with such transplants to assess the efficacy and safety of the procedure. Assuming the initial positive results hold up, it will still be several years before this sort of operation is widespread, but it does point to a very near future where xenotransplanation will be common.


Cow vein used in transplant. Jonathan Aiken, CNN, February 23, 2001.

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