A man received a pig-hear transplant to save his life, and in doing so was the first successful xenotransplantation recipient to live for more than 30-days and without immediate rejection. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have faced a major shortfall of organs available for transplantation, and this trend is worrying. Currently, there are 112,000 people waiting on organ donation lists, and the vast majority of organs come from organ donors who are recently deceased. There are shortages of hearts, lungs and livers for those who desperately need them, and the demand far outstrips the supply. The promise of human-grown organs or organs from animals is a technology with great promise for the medical establishment and for those who urgently need transplantation.
The recipient of the first pig-heart transplant lived 70-days after the surgery. The heart became rigid and did not function properly, and decline in health began after 40-days. A month later, the organ recipient unfortunately passed. A proposed factor in the recipient’s death is believed to be porcine cytomegalovirus that was found in the heart itself. The presence of pathogens in the heart shows there was a hole in the disease-management process in place to prevent infection to the donor pigs. An important thing to know about the heart transplanted was that it was genetically edited. Xenotransplantation is the transplantation of an animal organ into a human recipient, which represents a sustainable way to provide organs in the future.
Companies and researchers have attempted to create organs for transplantation in laboratories by culturing cells. Companies like Organovo are working to bioprint 3D structures and tissue for the medical industry. Organovo uses host cells to create “bio-ink” that is used to 3D print tissues. Currently, the company can print liver cells in strips and geometries that can extend life and help when diseased cells are damaged. This technology of culturing or printing organs and tissues brings hope to many, and can be a good option in parallel with xenotransplantation to help in our current shortage issue.
Growing human organs or organs that can be transplanted into humans is a major step forward and goal of medical technologists and bioengineers. We rely upon the generosity of people to sign up as organ donors, and face a major shortfall in available organs. We need to refine the process of raising the animals and keeping them free of disease, and we need to strengthen the pipeline of organs that can save thousands annually.
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