Written by by Siobhan Hughes, CNN
The first trial of human organs transplantation with pig organs has produced a successful result after donors with heart failure received spare pig hearts to assist their breathing and circulatory systems.
The trial, run by scientists from seven institutions across Europe, consisted of 15 patients, of whom three complete transplants and 10 surviving for at least three months.
Previous studies, mostly funded by pharmaceutical companies and conducted in pigs, have tried to transplant stem cells or other experimental materials into the lungs of pigs, and animals without any health problems have been used as donors for transplants.
This trial used human organs in people; the donor was actually deceased for the purpose of the trial.
The lungs of both pigs and humans have similar lung anatomy, according to the authors of the study. A surgeon transplanted a large graft from one pig lung to the other, revealing that the transplantation had a safe outcome.
Pigs are much less efficient lung donors than humans, however, “what was significant in this trial was that a great number of the donated organs were from a deceased donor, and no other cultures had to be selected for a donor,” said co-author Mien Chun, the first author of the study from the University of Paderborn in Germany.
“This trial demonstrates that human tissue engineering is feasible and can be accepted by the patient even when the donor is deceased.”
The muscle cells of pigs and human hearts are very similar, for example, while pig lungs have 90% of human cells, according to the study.
The trial was designed to find out whether the technology could be used to transplant organs into people with rare conditions such as heart failure who can’t be saved by other means.
For patients who survive with heart failure, even if their hearts are still working, their lungs are incapable of taking in oxygen due to the narrowing of blood vessels, said David Meryczynsky, professor of clinical biology and transplants from the New York University Langone Medical Center, who was not involved in the study.
Transplantation of organs from pigs would produce functioning lungs but maintain the body’s immune system, “even if the donor did not have a chronic disease,” he said in a statement.
The announcement of the successful trial was made at the European Society of Cardiology annual meeting in Milan, Italy.