Pig hearts for human patients possible in 3 years

LONDON - Pig hearts adapted for human patients could be available within three years, predicted a British surgeon who pioneered heart transplantation.

   

Human organs for transplant are in short supply worldwide. Researchers and clinicians have long hoped that the challenge could be alleviated through the availability of suitable animal organs for transplant, a concept known as xenotransplantation.

 

Pigs in particular have been especially promising candidates due to their similar size and physiology to humans.

   

Terence English, who performed Britain's first successful heart transplant 40 years ago, told the Sunday Telegraph recently that xenotransplantation could possibly eradicate the donor waiting list.

   

He said his protege during the 1979 operation is preparing to perform the world's first pig-to-human kidney transplant before the end of this year.

 

"If the result of xenotransplantation is satisfactory with porcine kidneys to humans, then it is likely that hearts would be used with good effects in humans within a few years," English said.

 

"If it works with a kidney, it will work with a heart. That will transform the issue," he added.

   

An international team of researchers, including British scientists, found that delivering a small piece of genetic material called microRNA-199 into a heart damaged by an attack made cells to regenerate.

 

According to a study released in May this year, the investigators delivered microRNA-199 to the heart of pigs, after a myocardial infarction which resulted in the almost complete recovery of cardiac function at one month later.

   

"It is a very exciting moment for the field. After so many unsuccessful attempts at regenerating the heart using stem cells, which all have failed so far, for the first time we see real cardiac repair in a large animal," lead author Professor Mauro Giacca from King's College London said.

   

This is the first demonstration that cardiac regeneration can be achieved by administering an effective genetic drug that stimulates cardiac regeneration in a large animal, with heart anatomy and physiology like that of humans.

   

"It will take some time before we can proceed to clinical trials," said Giacca.

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