Following research published in January that observed fused cells resulting from a mixing of human and pig DNA, the American Anti-Vivisection Society fired of a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services demanding an immediate halt to all xenotransplantation research.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic implanted human blood cells into fetal pigs. Some cells taken from the adult pigs were hybrids — they contained both human and pig DNA material. In addition, the hybrid cells contained the porcine endogenous retrovirus. As New Scientist noted in its summary of the study,
Previous laboratory work has shown that while PERVs in pig cells cannot infect human cells, those in hybrid cells can. The discovery therefore suggests a serious potential problem for xenotransplantation.
The work also suggests a possible route of infection for other viruses that have crossed from animals to humans.
The American Anti-Vivisection Society thinks that potential problem should result in an immediate halt to all such research. In a press release, the AAVS said,
Becuase organs from genetically-altered pigs have been heralded as the potential solution to alleviate the shortage of suitable human organs in the United States and elsewhere, the findings from this study provide an important case to abandon plans to transplant pig-derived cells, organs, and tissues into humans.
“This study clearly illustrates the dangers to public health that are inherent in xenotransplantation,” said AAVS Executive Director, Tina Nelson. “Not only could such transplants further jeopardize the lives of human patients who so desperately need a healthy organ, but also society as a whole, considering the likelihood of the patient also being infected with a dangerous retrovirus that could spread to other people.” The scientists involved postulate that HIV may have originated in this manner when an infected monkey bit a human and their stem cells fused. A retrovirus could also spread among scientists who work with the animals and/or their body parts and fluids.
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“The solution to the organ donor shortage is not to place the burden on other animals but to change the donor system in the U.S. and make it a national priority. Xenotransplantation is similar to putting a filthy band-aid on an infected wound — it will not help but rather worsen the situation,” Nelson added. “I urge Secretary Thompson not to ignore these warnings signs.”
Oh sure, that makes sense — there’s a potential problem here, so lets stop all research!
Health Secretary Urged to Immediately Halt Trans-species Organ Transplants: Study Illustrates Dangers to Humans.
Pig-human chimeras contain cell surprise. New Scientist, January 13, 2004.
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