By Caroline Song

KSAT, a news channel located in San Antonio, Texas, reports on a Houston based lab that has begun building new human organs using scaffolding provided by pig organs. The process involves obtaining pig organs where they are washed with simple soap and water and then implanted with human stem cells. KSAT interviewed Amanda Dejesus, a resident of Pearland, Texas, who needed a new heart at the age of fifteen. Dejesus received a heart after six months of waiting, but not without the sobering realization that a persons needed to die for her to receive her gift. Dr. Doris Taylor, a research at the Texas Heart Institute believes in the work her lab has done in Houston. Taylor believes that by not going forward with this vein of thinking is morally incorrect. This type of research could bring hope to those who are dying on waiting lists.

Read that article here.

The following portion is provided by an intern at GBI:
The method used by the Houston lab is known as xenotransplantation, but with a twist. It is important to note that the Houston Lab is only in the research phase. Xenotransplantation is cross species transplantation and James Hardy performed the first organ transplant in 1964, where in a clinical trial he transplanted a chimpanzee’s heart into a human being. The operation was not successful and ultimately the patient died a few hours after the procedure. The difference in the procedure used today by the Houston lab is the introduction of human stem cells. Basically, the pig heart, once washed, becomes a scaffold where the stem cells can begin building a human heart on top. This allows the heart to be viable for human use and does not force the recipient to take immunosuppressant medication. By using this method, it would allow patients to receive organs of their own type and does not necessitate the death of another person in order to receive an organ. However, this type of research brings up many questions. For instance, the price of this type of procedure is undocumented and brings in the possibility of inequality, with the rich being able to afford an engineered heart while the poor must wait on lists. There is also the fact that the Houston lab is not the first to perform this type of research. Multiple labs around the United States have attempted this type of study, but feel we are a few years away from implementing nationwide. There is also the question of the use of pig hearts to provide a scaffold for human hearts. Many animal ethicists would argue that we are simply using the animals as a means to an end. While this type of work could bring about shorter waiting lists, there are still many caveats to the procedure. It is important to remember that there are many other exciting avenues that the transplant world can move into in the future.

View the sources here, here, and here.