Pig Hearts Successfully Transplanted Into A Baboon For The First Time
The hovercar is a fine example of the ‘so near yet so far’ idea of the ever-elusive future, where every newborn comes equipped with a jetpack and hologram port. But contrary to what we were brought up to expect, the year 2000 yielded nothing but terrible fashion and crushing technological disappointments (Furbies).
But although last year’s must-have Christmas present was the inappropriately named Hover Board (it had wheels), this year to save us from tears 2018 is set to give us something pretty special. That’s right last Christmas I gave you my heart, but 2018 has stepped up the game with the biggest xenotransplantation breakthrough for years, giving us the yuletide gift of… pig hearts successfully transplanted into baboon!
Xeno What Now?
Simply put, xenotransplantation is a transplant or implantation of cells, or organs, from one species to another. It’s a discipline historically associated with mad scientists defying the laws of God and Man, but over the last twenty years xenotransplantation has made significant leaps and bounds from out of the volcano-hideouts of demented sci-fi villains and into history.
Think Pig Heart Boy, the 90’s CBBC series about how animal rights protesters prefer for plucky teens die of heart failure, so long as it saves Peppa from ending up medical-grade sausages.
Now the men and women in white lab coats have been grafting behind the scenes for years trying to make sprucing up your shoddy human parts, with nice meaty animal organs a reality.
Have You Porcine This?
For over twenty years labs all over the world have been struggling to perfect the ideal conditions to transfer a major organ from one animal to a completely different species.
Common inter-species organ-swap test subjects are baboon and pigs, although a baboon heart is significantly smaller than as pig’s… something the lay person might have inferred from even the most causal watching of classic pig-flick, Babe.
This was initially a source of some difficulty, as a baboon typically takes up to ten years to reach maturity, whereas is a pig is fully grown in only four months. Early attempts saw the implanted pig heart swelling and growing still inside the slender chest of the baboon, which did not save Christmas and caused an untimely death for the unnamed baboon.
Slowly Slowly Catchy Monkey
After making some adjustments to the process, such as adding an immunosuppressant to stop the pig heart growing further, as well as submersing the heart inside an experimental (Isn’t it all?!) nutrient solution cooked up by some Swedish scientists before the transplant, head transplantation researcher Bruno Reichart of the University of Munich appears to have cracked it.
This time round three of the four baboon subjects went on to recover perfectly fine. Although their baboon celebrations were short-lived, as guidelines for this type of experimentation mandate that test subjects must be euthanized after 90 or 180 days whether healthy or not. Bad news for the baboons, but encouraging for the scientists who have dedicated their career to this potentially life-changing practice.
Although still a few years away from human trials, Reichart’s studies show promise and potential to the future of medicine and organ donation. The paper, which was published on Wednesday, has set tongues wagging in laboratories all over the world.
Burcin Ekser, transplant surgeon and head of the Xenotransplantation Research Lab in Indiana University seems positive that the effects of these trials will be noticeable and beneficial to humans within the next few years.
“Finally, in the U.S., we are starting to talk about when we can start human trials—probably first in some organs like kidneys or pancreas cells to cure diabetes,” he says.
University of Maryland director of Xenotransplantation Muhammed Mohiuddin agrees, enthusing that “We just had this baboon, and it has a pig heart—and it’s living. This is not science fiction, this is really for real now.”