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Pig-to-human heart transplants

News about the first pig-to-human heart transplant has made headlines across the world, including discussion about the ethics of such a procedure.

A team of surgeons at University of Maryland Medical Centre (UMMC), Baltimore, USA, transplanted a genetically-modified pig heart into a patient with a life-threatening heart disease, in the first successful procedure of its kind.

The surgery drew praise (BBC, New York Times) from the international medical community, hailing the success (New Scientist) and the potential (Guardian) of animal-to-human organ transplants (xenotransplantation) offering new hope to the thousands of patients waiting on hospital waiting lists.

“This is the culmination of years of highly complicated research to hone this technique in animals with survival times that have reached beyond nine months,” said Dr Muhammed Mohiuddin, director of the Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program, at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“This unprecedented and historic procedure highlights the importance of translational research which lays the groundwork for patients to benefit in the future,” added his colleague Dr E. Albert Reece.

However, some coverage questioned the ethical and moral considerations, particularly considering the potential for the transfer of viruses between species.

Animal activist groups have been cautious in celebrating the success, as the research will have involved ‘rigorous animal testing to ensure human safety’, said Plant Based News, with PETA openly condemning the surgery as “unethical, dangerous, and a tremendous waste of resources”.

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