By Julie Killian
China has recently executed a successful transplantation of the small intestine from a transgenic pig to a crab-eating macaque at Nanjing General Hospital of Nanjing Military Command. China initiated the experiment with the interest of discovering alternative ways to deal with the shortage of organs for donation. The hope is that the success of this operation will enable future transplants from transgenic pigs to humans. The encouragement lies in the fact that the macaque, a monkey native to Asia and Africa, is a non-human primate and thus the transplanted small intestine could satisfy human needs. This process of transplantation between a non-human species and a human is known as xenotransplantation. Xenotransplantation refers to the transplantation or infusion of living cells, tissues or organs of animal origin with human body fluids, cells, tissues or organs, in which the contact between the two xenogenic (foreign) materials takes place ex vivo, outside of the organism.
Xenotransplantation is accompanied by many ethical concerns and dilemmas. For an example, this type of transplantation could cause the transmission of xenogenic infectious agents; animals and humans carry different types of bacteria, and the transmission of foreign cells can cause health problems as the body cannot identify the xenogenic material making adaptation either difficult or hazardous. Also, there is evidence that xenogenic transplants are carried out in unregulated and non-evidence-based treatment. This is of major concern to health organizations, as the prevention and surveillance of infections are crucial to the welfare of the public. The welfare of animals is jeopardized as well by this kind of operation. These developing realities could hinder the appeal for participating recipients, who create the demand for alternative donations. However, scientists in China and elsewhere insist that xenotransplantation could be a suitable alternative that would expand the demographic of survivors—individuals alive due to the donations of pigs.
Read more here.