February 4, 2010

Pig Lungs One Step Closer To Human Transplant

A medical breakthrough has brought the use of pig lungs in transplants to humans a step closer.

Scientists in Melbourne Australia used a ventilator and pump to keep the animal lungs alive and "breathing" while human blood flows through them, the Telegraph recently reported.

Experts believe that within five years, this work might lead to the first animal-human transplant.

Dr Glenn Westall, who helped conduct the experiment, said: "The blood went into the lungs without oxygen and came out with oxygen, which is the exact function of the lungs.

"It showed that these lungs were working perfectly well and doing as we were expecting them to do.

"This is a significant advance compared to experiments that have been performed over the past 20 years."

The breakthrough came when scientists moved a section of pig DNA, which made the pig organs incompatible with human blood.

A couple of years ago, scientists' attempts to combine unmodified pig lungs and human blood ended abruptly when blood clots began forming almost immediately, causing the organs to become so blocked no blood could pass through.
Human DNA is now added to the pigs as they are reared to reduce clotting and the number of lungs that are rejected.

The full results of the research are to be announced in Vancouver in August.

The issue has prompted an ethical debate about the use of animals for the sake of human transplants.

Professor Tonti-Fillippini, a medical ethicist, said "It is basically a human-pig, a hybrid, or whatever you want to call it."

"It is about whether the community is prepared to accept a part human, part animal."