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Guest Columnist :
A San Francisco Liberal  - Thomas Sowell, TownHall.com
What is the Deal?

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November 17, 2002

What is the deal with Xenotransplantation?

By Jan A. Larson

According to a recent FOX News report, Italian researchers have developed a technique to more easily introduce human genes into pigs.  The ultimate payoff from such research will be the ability to harvest hearts, livers and other organs from these genetically engineered pigs for transplantation into humans.  There is still much work to do before xenotransplantation becomes a reality.  Adding human genes to pigs is not sufficient to eliminate the rejection of swine tissue by the human body.  There are other swine genes that must be altered or removed before the rejection problem will be solved.

Several thousand people die each year waiting for an organ donor.  Having a ready supply of organs that are engineered to prevent rejection would be a tremendous breakthrough.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, will likely oppose this research, for no other reason than they basically oppose any use of any animals for the benefit of mankind.  Pigs are raised today for food, “the other white meat,” and many people would not consider eggs for breakfast without a couple of slices of bacon and wouldn’t enjoy Thanksgiving dinner without ham.  It would certainly not be a stretch for most of the bacon and ham eaters to accept that some pigs would be raised for their organs.

What about the great many people around the world that do not eat pork products for religious or other reasons, including members of PETA?  Under the assumption that transplanting organs from pigs becomes commonplace, it is not inconceivable that a person may come into a hospital in dire need of a transplant.  With no donor available, the only solution may be to use a pig organ.  This situation opens up a legal Pandora’s box not unlike the problems that have already been encountered when a person opposed to blood transfusions is in dire need of a transfusion.

I often disagree with the positions of PETA and certainly disagree with many of their tactics, but xenotransplantation does raise some disturbing issues, the most disturbing of which was mentioned in passing in the FOX News article, “… the possibility that unrecognized swine viruses could be transferred into human patients along with the transplanted organ.”  It would be tragic and ironic if the technology to save lives through xenotransplantation resulted in epidemics of unknown diseases.

Those that tend to assume the worst in every situation will undoubtedly be apprehensive or down right terrified at the prospect of having a pig heart or kidney transplanted into their body, but for the rest of us, the possibility of having a ready supply of organs available when and if the time comes that one is needed is another reason to be thankful for the genetic research now being done.  There are, however, many hurdles to be overcome and issues to be resolved before xenotransplantation becomes a reality.


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The opinions expressed in "What is the Deal?" guest columns reflect those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Pie of Knowledge.  The owner and staff of the Pie of Knowledge accept no responsibility for the content or accuracy of submitted commentary.  (c) Copyright 2002 - The Pie of Knowledge (Jan A. Larson).  All rights reserved.  This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.