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News 4393 views last update:Sep 10, 2008

Pigs to be bred for human organ transplants

Lord Winston, the UK fertility expert, is to start breeding pigs in order to produce hearts, livers and kidneys for transplanting for humans. Winston believes genetically modified organs provide the best solution to tackle the shortage of organs needed. A record number of almost 8,000 British patients are waiting for an organ.

Highly controversial
The highly controversial method of transplanting animal organs - xenotransplantation - has been tried before with limited success. Many of the organs were rejected by the patients' immune system. The pigs will be bred with approximately six human genes to prevent patients rejecting their organs. Winston's team will need to prove that the pig organs can be sufficiently modified to survive long-term in the human body.

Winston said: "Pigs' organs are the right size for human transplantation, and they work similarly to human organs. Of course this raises a moral problem, but it is much more ethical to use a pig to save a human life than to use it for relatively unnecessary meat eating."

Transgenic sperm
Pigs involved in experiments have successfully produced transgenic sperm, but Winston acknowledges that British and European laws prevent the team from using the pigs to mate.
 
The research project is now moving from Britain to America after British regulations and a shortage of funding prevented experiments here, with the pig breeding to take place in Missouri. The method could see hundreds of genetically modified pigs reared simultaneously for their organs with organs to be taken from pigs as young as one year.

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