PRESS RELEASE March 31, 1998 Animal-to-Human Organ Transplants Riskier Than Ever
Group Cites Mounting Evidence of Viral Threats from Pigs and Primates
Evidence mounts, on a weekly basis, that we should not be transplanting virally contaminated animal organs into humans. Baboons and pigs are still designated organ donors for xenotransplants, despite warnings by prominent virologists that they harbor several endogenous retroviruses, some that can infect human cells. The swine flu of 1918 killed 20 million people worldwide; and both the Asian flu virus of 1957 and the Hong Kong flu virus of 1968 mutated in pigs.
"We could have another AIDS-like epidemic on our hands," says CRT spokesperson Murry Cohen, M.D.. The worldwide spread of HIV infection has been linked to a virus that allegedly jumped from monkeys to humans. "Transplanting organs from baboons and pigs into humans could make AIDS look like a party. Responsible health authorities would ban xenotransplantation outright," says Cohen. Recent events are cause for alarm:
Yesterday the journal Nature reported that researchers discovered a simian foamy virus (SFV) in the bloodstream of four laboratory workers exposed to chimpanzees, baboons, and African green monkeys. The Centers for Disease Control admits there is a risk of SFV transmission, especially through donated blood. Virologist Jonathan Allan believes that foamy viruses represent "the greatest immediate threat to humans among the known simian retroviruses." Their pathogenic potential may only become known after they become well established in the human population (Molecular Diagnosis Vol. 1 No. 3, September 1996: 211).
Last month, Australian virologist Peter Kirkland discovered an unknown virus in pigs which caused deformities and stillbirths in pigs and infected two workers who developed flu-like symptoms. Kirkland said there was no guarantee that the virus had been contained.
In December 1997, a laboratory worker at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta, died after she was splashed with body fluids from a monkey infected with the deadly herpes B virus.
In September 1997, scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda announced that a previously unrecognized strain of hepatitis E may be circulating in the US pig population and might explain the high prevalence of hepatitis E antibodies in healthy individuals in the US.
Pigs and primates are likely o carry several unidentified infectious diseases which could infect organ transplant recipients and their contacts. Surveillance systems to guard against infectious diseases are inadequate. The General Accounting Office recently faulted the Food and Drug Administration for failing to track transplant patients who may have received human tissues infected with HIV and other viruses. Can this agency be trusted to monitor animal organ transplants? (End of Press Release)
CRT aims to petition HHS with 100,000 signatures
The petitions will be presented at the end of summer 1998 to Donna Shalala of the Department of Health and Human Services which oversees the Food and Drug Administration which is regulating xenotransplantation procedures.
Petition presented December 10, 1998
YOU CAN HELP! Petitions are available from CRT and can be left at health food stores, doctors' offices, veterinary offices, churches, community group meetings, colleges/universities, health clubs, etc. All done Dec. 10
YOUR ORGANIZATION CAN JOIN. CRT is a national health advocacy group composed of scientists, health professionals, and public interest groups, promoting transplant methods that are safe, reliable, and sustainable. CRT opposes animal-to-human organ transplantation, which poses a grave danger to human health because of the risk of transferring deadly animal viruses to the human population.
SIGNATORY ORGANIZATIONS AGREE TO THE FOLLOWING:
We recognize the public health risks posed by xenotransplantation (cited below). We endorse a ban on all forms of taxpayer-funded xenotransplantation experiments. We endorse an immediate ban on all clinical applications of xenotransplantation technology.
Transplanting living animal organs into humans circumvents the natural barriers (such as skin and gastrointestinal tract) that prevent infection, thereby facilitating the transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans.
Many viruses, as innocuous as the common cold or as lethal as Ebola, can be transmitted via a mere cough or sneeze. An animal virus residing in a xenograft recipient could become airborne, infecting scores of people, and causing a potentially deadly viral epidemic of global proportions akin to HIV or worse.
Viruses that are harmless to their animal hosts, can be deadly when transmitted to humans. For example, Macaque herpes is harmless to Macaque monkeys, but lethal to humans.
There is no way to screen for viruses that are not yet known. Scientists continue to discover new viruses in primates and pigs that were unknown before. Proceeding with xenotransplantation could expose patients and non-patients to a host of new animal viruses which could remain dormant for months or years before being detected. xenotransplantation could thus be viewed as a form of involuntary human experimentation which violates US laws and United Nation charters.
Xenotransplant proponents claim that they will breed "germ-free" animals, thereby diminishing the risk of viral transmission. But it is impossible to breed "germ-free" animals since no animal can remain completely free of parasites or endogenous viruses. In fact, genetically engineered animals are more susceptible to a host of diseases because of weaker immune systems.
Breeding animals for xenotransplantation would create a host of environmental problems (including soil and groundwater contamination) associated with disposal of animal waste, and the carcasses of genetically modified animals and their offspring. Conventional farming and rendering operations have yet to solve these problems which continue to threaten public health across the US.
Proposed regulatory oversight of xenotransplantation procedures is weak and would likely be highly flawed. In all areas of human activity, particularly where there is money to be made, the potential for error, negligence, and fraud exists. Several noted cases of individual and institutional malfeasance, such as the HIV-contaminated blood scandals, have demonstrated that such behavior has placed human health at risk before.
More information including petition and organization sign-on paper
available from CRT, PO Box 2751, New York NY 10163 or phone
May 15, 1998 reprinted in The Civil Abolitionist, Spring 1998
CAMPAIGN FOR RESPONSIBLE TRANSPLANTATION
(Continued on page 61)