In March 1997, British researchers reported that pig retroviruses PERVS) had multiplied in human kidney cells in vitro. Because retroviruses are permanent once established, and can be transmitted through bodily fluids (like HIV, the retrovirus many scientists blame for triggering the diseases known as AIDS). Animal viruses are usually unable to penetrate barriers posed by the human skin, stomach acids, and immune response, but if they are planted inside and become a functioning part of the human body, it becomes less likely that the immune system, particularly one compromised by anti-rejection drugs, can eliminate them.V v V v v
In November, Dr. Robin Weiss of the Chester Beatty Laboratory in London announced finding a porcine endogenous retrovirus, harmless to pigs, but with the ability to infect human cells. This discovery reinforced the British decision to ban transplanting organs from pigs to people for the time being.
Scientists and their commercial backers, who are pushing to begin human transplants with organs from pigs genetically altered to carry human genes, claim that they can screen out any viruses from organs to be used for transplants. Virologist Peter Kirkland and colleagues at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute in Camden, NSW Australia countered in New Scientist that "You can't screen for viruses you don't know about."
Following closely as it did on the heels of the Hong Kong chicken flu scare, the news from Australia was not reassuring. Prompt action by Hong Kong health authorities in killing all the chickens there may possibly have averted another flu epidemic like the one that killed over 20 million people in 1918-1919.
Animal viruses do not normally infect humans, but when they do, they encounter a new environment where there are few, if any, antibodies to resist their spread. Dr. Andre Menache, President of Doctors and Lawyers for Responsible Medicine, likens this situation to naughty
children being turned loose in a new playground without supervision.
Meeting no resistance, foreign viruses are free to mutate and become transmissible from human to human as happened with the devastating 1918 epidemic which was traced to American pigs but called "Spanish flu" at that time in spite of the fact that it was spread by American troops during World War I. In 1976 it was called "swine flu" after a soldier at Fort Dix had died of what later turned out to be another strain of influenza (A-Victoria) setting off a government-subsidized campaign for massive vaccinations which resulted in 113 deaths and an estimated 3600 cases of paralysis at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of $135 billion. In spite of having been inoculated with a comprehensive flu vaccine, 500 soldiers at Fort Dix were stricken with the disease.
This debacle has nothing to do with xenotransplants but it serves to illustrate how health authorities have bungled in the past. Because pressure for vaccinating the entire U.S. population came from the manufacturers of the vaccine, it also serves to show how such dangerous decisions come to be made. We now have similar pressure to begin transgenic transplants from certain impetuous surgeons, the manufacturers of immunosuppressive drugs required to prevent rejection of transplanted organs, and the producers of transgenic pigs (an assault on the natural order of things).
Selling pig organs at $12,000 apiece is estimated to result in a $6 billion market by 2010. The market for immunosuppressive drugs by that year is estimated at $5 billion. In addition there are surgical and hospital fees.
The number of people suffering from failing organs and pinning their hopes on a human replacement is most distressing. It is also a strong indictment of allopathic medical practice which focuses on trying to patch people up after damage has occurred as opposed to helping them to take care of the organs they already have. While it is a worthy cause to try to help people in trouble, it would be far better all around to help them not to get sick in the first place.
Under the present system, the people of our aging population are falling ill in greater numbers than ever. The cost of modern, high tech treatment exceeds the ability of most people to pay for it. Many are unable to afford the increased cost of health insurance. The government's Medicaid and Medicare systems are financially strained. Why on earth would we want to embark on experimenting with such an expensive treatment as xenotransplants even if its safety were assured, which it isn't.
Other countries have increased the supply of human organs by assuming that the organs of people who have died are available for transplants unless they or their families have specifically expressed wishes to the contrary. - br
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