The process is known as xenotransplantation – where an organ is transplanted from one species to another – and experts hope it will one day solve the global organ donation shortage. Now scientists are one step closer to transplanting pig organs to humans after a baboon lived healthily for 195 days with a pig heart. To begin with, the scientists, led by Bruno Reichart from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, genetically modified the pig donors so their heart tissue does not carry the signatures of being a pig hearts.
This way, the baboon’s immune system would not fight the heart as being a foreign body.
Researchers from Germany, Sweden and Switzerland then transplanted pig hearts into five baboons.
One of the baboons was put down shortly after, while another two lived for three months.
The remaining monkeys were kept alive for 195 and 182 days respectively before they were put down.
With a global shortage of suitable organ donors, the move could be a massive breakthrough for the medical industry.
Pigs are an ideal candidate to help humans as their organs, specifically the heart and kidneys, are very similar to that of ours.
The team wrote in their research paper published in the journal Nature: “Consistent life-supporting function of xenografted hearts for up to 195 days is a milestone on the way to clinical cardiac xenotransplantation.
“Despite 25 years of extensive research, the maximum survival of a baboon after heart replacement with a porcine xenograft was only 57 days and this was achieved, to our knowledge, only once.”
Experts state however that the research is far from finished.
Prof Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation who was not involved in the study, said: “This new research takes us a step closer to the use of pig hearts in humans.
“However the results still fall short of the need for more extensive and longer-term studies before the first pig heart is transplanted into a human.
“To be seriously considered for use in humans, studies will have to demonstrate greater success than a mechanical pumping device, and ensure that potential safety complications due to viral transmission from the transplanted heart to the recipient can be discounted.”