No monkey business: pig to baboon organ transplants increasingly successful

Xavier Symons
April 9, 2016
Reproduced with Permission

A team of researchers in the US have performed a series of remarkably successful interspecies organ transplants. Specifically, they transplanted genetically modified pigs hearts into baboons and kept the 'graft organs' alive for a median of 300 days.

The researchers, led by Muhammad M. Mohiuddin of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in Maryland, published a paper detailing their findings in Nature Communications this week.

Mohiuddin and his colleagues transplanted genetically modified 'human-like' pigs hearts into the baboons while administering a series of special drugs to prevent rejection. Importantly, the researchers didn't remove the baboon's own heart, but rather connected an additional heart to the circulatory system of the animals, allowing their own hearts to beat as normal.

With their targeted interventions, the researchers managed to keep the hearts (and the baboons) healthy for many months, and one survived for 945 days.

The researchers say that new-targeted interventions, such as the blocking of communication between immune cells and the administering of blood thinners, allowed for greatly increased organ survival.

"These hearts could have gone even longer, but we wanted to test to see if the animals had developed some kind of tolerance to the organs," Mohiuddin told science magazine The Verge.

Several research teams around the world are conducting similar research into xenotransplantation - the transplantation of tissue or organs from one species to another - in a bid to address the ubiquitous problem of organ shortages.