piglet doctor
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Pig hearts could be used for human transplants within just three years, according to the surgeon who performed the first op in Britain 40 years ago.

Sir Terence English said his protege from the UK's first successful heart transplant in 1979 will first try to replace a human kidney with a pig's this year.

And the pioneer believes this could pave the way for more complicated animal-human organ transplants - a process called "xenotransplantation".

Sir Terence, 87, told the Sunday Telegraph: "If the result of xenotransplantation is satisfactory with porcine kidneys to humans then it is likely that hearts would be used with good effects in humans within a few years.

"If it works with a kidney, it will work with a heart.

"That will transform the issue."


The demand for donor organs far outweighs supply - with 280 people in the UK on the waiting list for a new heart.

It has led to scientists pursuing other options to supply donor organs - including taking them from animals or growing them in the lab.

Pig organs are seen as the best hope for a successful human transplant as they are similar in size to ours.

Sir Terence led the team that successfully operated on Keith Castle at Papworth Hospital near Cambridge 40 years ago today.

Mr Castle went on to live for another five years following the op.

Professor Christoper McGregor, who was the senior registrar for Sir Terence, has gone on to make two "knock-out" genes that may allow pigs organs to be used in humans.

The University of Alabama professor thinks his team's method could work for a kidney transplant within just a few months.

Sir Terence added: "There will be animal rights people who will say it's entirely wrong.

"But if you can save a life isn't that maybe a bit better?"


It comes as a US science firm is carrying out tests on genetically modified pig organs in monkeys in the hope they can be transplanted into humans.

Forward thinking eGenesis is using CRISPR gene-editing techniques in a weird science bid to end the US's critical shortage of donated organs.

The firm is now working to scientifically adapt pig organs so they are one day suitable for human use.

But xenotransplantation - the process of transplanting organic material from one species to another - has not yet been tested on humans.

What is xenotransplantation?

The transplantation of a healthy organ or tissue from an animal into the body of another species is known as xenotransplantation.

It is seen by many in the scientific community as the future of organ transplants.

Due to shortages in donated organs and lengthening life expectencies, scientists have been turning to research into alternative sources of replacement organs.

Xenotransplantation has been heralded as a potential avenue to cure people with cardiac problems.

The World Health Organisation defines it as: "Living cells, tissues or organs of animal origin and human body fluids, cells, tissues or organs that have with these living, xenogeneic materials, has the potential to constitute an alternative to material of human origin and bridge the shortfall in human material for transplantation."

The WHO also urges Member States to ensure effective that regulations are tight.

It can be extremely dangerous to patients as the body's natural immune response often rejects the organ - which can prove fatal.
Instead eGenesis is transplanting modified pig organs into monkeys, at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The experiments are being led by the hospital's chief of transplant surgery Dr James Markmann - who says the tests are a "necessary step" toward human use.

Which organs, what species of monkey and details on how the pigs have been raised, have not been revealed, reports the MIT Technology Review.

However, this isn't the first time pig organs have reportedly been tested on primates.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health successfully placed pig hearts inside baboons, keeping them beating, alongside their original hearts, for two years.