Pub. by Genetic Engineering
Action Network, USA
October 13, 2000
Pig Heart Transplants Not "Taking"
While public attention has focused on biotech crop plants of late, the engineering of animals proceeds apace. Since Halloween is coming up, we'll round up a few items, starting with a xenotransplantation scandal in England.
Xenotransplantation (xeno = foreign) is the transplanting of organs between species. Normally, the recipient would die immediately, as the body rejected the new organ. However, scientists are working on giving a pig human genes so that its heart can be transplanted successfully into a human being.
A British newspaper recently published horrifically gruesome accounts of pig-to-baboon transplants performed by Huntingdon Life Sciences. For instance, a baboon managed to survive for 39 days with a pig's heart, which had swollen to three times its normal size by the end of the unhappy creature's life. The lab has been accused of performing sloppy work and covering it up wth optimistic reports (Lucy Johnson and Jonathan Calvery, "Terrible despair of animals cut up in name of research," Daily Express, Sept. 21, 2000, www.lineone.net/express/00/09/21/news/n1820-d.html).
As public outrage grew, Novartis, the Swiss biotech giant that ordered the tests, announced that it was decamping its operation to America. Imutran, the transplantation division of Novartis, will merge with BioTransplant, a Massachusetts-based company. ("Animal lab shuts down after we reveal horrors," Daily Express, Sept. 28, 2000, www.lineone.net/express/00/09/28/news/n0920-d.html)
Researchers are increasingly uneasy with the prospect of animal diseases spreading to humans by way of the transplanted organs. Nature, a respected and usually pro-biotech journal, recently reported research which points to the likelihood that porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERV's) can infect humans. the journal called for a moratorium on tests of animal-to-human transplants ("The trials of xenotransplantation," Nature, August 17, 2000, www.nature.com/cgitaf/DynaPage,taf?file=/nature/journal/v406/n6797/full/406661a0_fs.html
And the Roslin Institute in Scotland, where Dolly the sheep was cloned, has shut down its zeno experimnts. Roslin's Ian Wilmut said, "The concern is mainly unknown viruses, that's the frightening thing. It's possible there could be viruses we don't know about that could be released into the human population" ("Virus fears end pig organ transplant experiments, Ananova, www.lineone.net/newswire/cgi-in/newswire.cgi/new_wire/pa_tech/story/2000/8/c–2000-8-15-In9.html).
For more info see Campaign for Responsible Transplantation: www.crt-online.org