Thanks to research that is currently being done, people waiting for organs may soon be able to receive organ donations from pigs. The current research is housed at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Over the last 10 years they have been transplanting pig hearts into baboons to see if they could survive with them. On a daily basis, about 22 people die waiting for an organ that they need. The researchers at the NIH have been able to keep a baboon alive for 3 years!! These shocking results do not mean that they can start using pig organs in humans yet, but they are one step closer. People never believed in transplanting organs from one species to another, which is known as xenotransplantation.
When an organ is moved from one species to another, it may provoke an intense attack from the host’s immune system. The researchers have been working with different drugs to try to stop such an intense immune response. One they found to work the best was CD40. This drug blocks the communication that occurs between certain immune cells. It works by binding to a receptor in the surface of the cells. They were using CD40 along with Heparin, a blood-thinning drug, to see if it would prevent the immune response in the baboons with the implanted pig hearts. It worked while the baboons were on the drug, but once the researchers took the drug away and it left the system, they started to reject the hearts. These experiments proved that if humans started to receive pig organs, they might have to be on a drug to support their immune system and prevent infection.
This is one step closer to being able to save more lives. I knew that they were trying to get pig organs to be able to be transplanted in humans, but I never knew that they were this far into the research. Hopefully someday they will be able to make the pig organ work in humans without an immune response. They are working diligently to delete the gene that causes the response in the host's body.