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German researchers to begin breeding pigs for human heart transplants


  • A plan to clone and breed pigs for human heart transplants is expected to take off in the coming years

MUNICH – German scientists intend to clone and then raise genetically modified pigs this year to serve as human heart donors, based on a simplified version of a U.S.-engineered animal used in the world’s first pig-to-human transplant last month.

Dr. Eckhard Wolf, a scientist at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, told the New York Post on Thursday that he is in charge of a team that will carry out the experiment. The first generation of genetically modified pigs is anticipated to be born this year, and their hearts will be tested in baboon monkeys before a human clinical trial.

ALSO READ: US surgeons successfully implant pig heart in human

Wolf informed the outlet about a recent transplant in which doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center transplanted a pig heart into a human patient on January 7 in a last-ditch bid to preserve the patient’s life. His physicians say he’s doing well, despite the risks of infection, organ rejection, and high blood pressure, according to the source.

Wolf told the Post that the team’s strategy will be based on a simplified form of a pig-to-human transplant, “namely with five genetic modifications.”

According to the publication, Wolf stated that the researchers will use “inefficient” cloning technology in their endeavor, but only to create “the founder animals.” Once these pigs are generated, future genetically identical generations would be bred from them.

After the team tests their transplants on monkeys, the transformed pigs are expected to be available by 2025. According to the publication, they hope to do a human clinical trial in two or three years.

Wolf, who has been studying animal-to-human transplants, or xenotransplants, for 20 years, stated that his team would use yet inefficient cloning technology to make only “the founding animals,” from whom future genetically identical generations would be developed.

The first generation of such babies should be born this year, and their hearts will be tested in baboons before the team seeks approval for a human clinical trial in two or three years, according to Wolf.

Transplants are used for persons who have been diagnosed with organ failure and have no other treatment choices, with an estimated 8,500 people on the waiting list in Germany at the end of 2021, according to data from the country’s Organ Transplantation Foundation.

Animal donors, according to Wolf’s advocates, could help decrease that list, but opponents argue the technology tramples on animal rights, effectively reducing pigs to the role of organ factories while monkeys used in transplant tests die in pain.

In February 2019, the German lobbying organization Doctors Against Animal Experiments collected over 57,000 signatures on a petition calling for a moratorium on xenotransplantation research.

Kristina Berchtold, a spokesman for Germany’s Animal Welfare Association’s Munich branch, termed the technique “ethically quite dubious.”

“Animals should not serve as spare parts for humans,” she said. “… A pet, a so-called farm animal, a clone or a naturally born animal all have the same needs, fears and also rights.”

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