Xenotransplantation No Solution
to Organ Shortage

International Coalition Denounces Front Group for Misleading Americans

from Spring 1999 issue of The Civil Abolitionist                                        home

      Americans for Medical Progress (AMP), a public relations front for the animal research industry, has launched an irresponsible campaign to promote animal organ and tissue transplants (xenotransplants),
using the plight of liver transplant patients like football star Walter
Payton to advance its agenda.

     AMP's board of directors includes Leon Hirsch, AMP founder and President of US Surgical Corp., which recently sold its xenotransplantation program to Alexion Pharmaceuticals.  Also represented on AMP's board is Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, a platinum sponsor of World Pork Expo, the National Port Producers Council, and other pig-breed-ing programs.  Several companies in the US have already begun to breed colonies of pigs with human genes as sources of organs for transplants.

      "AMP is hardly an objective source for information on xenotransplantation, and Americans should not be fooled by the group's tactics," says CRT (Campaign for Responsible Transplants) Alix Fano. Xenotransplantation is not the solution to the alleged organ shortage."

      In the journal
Nature (5 March 1998 pp 11-12), noted transplant surgeon Abdulla Daar writes that "xenotransplantation will have no immediate effect on overall transplant numbers" because the technology is still highly experimental.  According to German scientist C. Hammer, the technology faces many obstacles including hyperacute rejection, "retroviral infections, transfer of prions and severe side-effects of the massive immunosuppression which will be needed.

      Moreover, animal and human organs differ in in many ways:  in their anatomy, production of hormones, rates of filtration, secretion and absorption of enzymes and other chemicals, in their resistance to disease, and expected longevity.  In 1998, xenotransplant researcher Thomas Starzl wrote that "the prospect of successful transplantation of animal organs into humans is still remote.

      But the public is not holding its breath.  A review of eight studies of attitude to xenotransplantation by P.J. Mohacsi, published in the
Annals of Transplantation (1998. Vol 3 No 2 pp 38-45) did not reveal overwhelming support for the technology.  And on 29 January 1999, the Council of Europe, a barometer of public opinion for its 40 member countries, voted for a world-wide ban on the technology.

      In claiming that xenotransplantation of animal cells, tissues, and organs will yield effective treatments for human diseases, AMP exaggerates the technology's alleged benefits while ignoring its risks.

      Proponents claim that animals will be screened for viruses to diminish the risk of infecting patients.  But M. M. Swindle at Medical University of South Carolina concedes that, "it will be impossible to provide complete individual animal screening ( for viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, and other diseases) in a timely fashion prior to performing a xenograft transplant," leaving patients, caregivers, and people at large vulnerable to infections.  New viruses may go undetected, and microbiological assays may be unavailable to screen for them.
        US Public Health agencies acknowledge that xenotransplantation is unsafe, and dozens of scientific papers have elucidated the risks of xenotransplantation in great detail.  Dr Daar has written about the "the danger of the establishment and spread of xenozoonoses in transplant recipients, their contacts, their contacts, and the general public."

      German scientist J. Denner writes that xenotransplantation "may cause AIDS-like disease. . ."  Others have pointed out that, similarly to the AIDS crisis, the spread of a new zoonotic virus could have the undesired effect of shrinking the pool of eligible blood and organ donors.

      Scientists from the Food and Drug Administrations Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research have stated that "transplantation of non-human live cells presents a risk of introducing novel pathogens into the human population."  The use of "bioartificial livers", coated with pig cells to filter the blood of acutely ill patients awaiting human livers, does not increase the overall number of organs available for transplant. 

       Moreover, such devices do not prevent pig viruses from being transmitted to humans.  Experiments using pig cells to treat diabetes, epilepsy, Huntington's and Parkinson's disease patients haven't provided the long-term benefits proponents had hoped for.  Studies with pig cells for Parkinson's disease have raised ethical questions, as patients in control groups had holes drilled through their skulls but received no treatment.  And studies in which cancer patients were injected with adrenal cells to treat pain were not double-blinded.  So the temporary relief these patients experienced could be attributed to the placebo effect.

      AMP claims that people have used pig heart valves and animal insulin for decades, and have benefited from polio vaccines made from monkey kidney cells.  But pig heart valves are soaked in glutaraldehyde before use and are biologically inert.  Moreover, synthetic valves last longer and are replacing pig valves.  Insulin (also produced synthetically now, thereby reducing the risk of allergies and prion diseases) is a purified compound, not a living preparation.  And recent studies by American and Swedish scientists, have linked rare human brain, lung, and bone cancers to polio vaccine contaminated with simian virus 40.
     There are alternatives to xenotransplantation. CRT publicized an April 1998 General Accounting Office report on organ donation that identified a potential US organ donor pool of 150,000 people - more than double the number needed to alleviate the alleged shortage.  In 1998, Spanish scientists Miranda and Matesanz wrote that "the organ shortage . . . results from the failure to turn potential into actual donors."

      "Fueling the demand for organ transplants is ultimately not the way we should be heading," says CRT's Fano.  "It is unsustainable and expensive.  Aggressive investment in population-based prevention and rehabilitation programs could reduce the need for transplants of
all kinds.

      In the meantime, the Department of Health and Human Services and the medical community could do a lot more to increase human organ
donation rates," says Fano.  "Spain implemented a 'presumed consent law' and has one of the highest donor rates in the world."

CRT Press Release  February 22, 1999



      Scientists at Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in New Haven CT have patented their altered version of a "sugar-like molecule" in pigs that attracted too much attention from human antibodies when pig tissue was transplanted into humans.  The altered version is "almost indestructible" when challenged with human serum.
      Alexion claims to have cured tremors "similar" to Parkinson's by implanting rodents with pig brain cells.  Baboons are next in line to be followed by humans.                                   
Canandaigua Messenger January 22, 1999

Subsequent article  from Summer 1999
CivAb 101    I

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