UK surgeon believes pig organs could be used in humans within three years.
Xenotransplantation is the transplanting of organs from one species into another. Researchers in the UK are actively investigating this approach for the treatment of humans using pig organs.
The company is currently attempting to replace a human kidney with one from a pig. If these initial explorations are successful, it is possible that adapted pig hearts could eventually be transplanted into humans –– maybe even within three years, according to Sir Terence English, the surgeon who pioneered heart transplantation in the UK.
Pig hearts are already used as models for human hearts in drug development because their anatomy and physiology are similar to those of human hearts. Recently, for instance, a new gene therapy for the treatment of patients that suffer a heart attack has been developed using pig heart models.
The therapy involves delivering microRNA-199, which causes cells to regenerate, into the damaged heart. In damaged pig hearts, the treatment was shown to provide almost complete recovery of cardiac function one month later.
Issues remain, however, because the microRNA-199 continued to be expressed in an uncontrolled manner — more work will need to be done before the therapy can be tested on humans.