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  • Surgeons in the US have transplanted a pig’s heart inside a human patient in a bold endeavour that represents a remarkable first in the world of medical science.
  • This success could potentially end the years-long backlog of people waiting to receive a healthy organ and open up a brave new world of possibilities.


What is Xenotransplantation?

  • It is the process of grafting or transplanting organs or tissues between members of different species.
  • It has been pursued by modern medical science for decades, but experts have found it difficult to surmount the challenge presented by the immune system’s rejection of an alien organ, ending in deadly outcomes for patients.


  • Transplantation to replace failing organs is one of the spectacular achievements but it also a victim to its own success as the number of those needing transplantation has outnumbered the availability of human organs.
  • Both living and dead humans are being sourced as donors there are scientific, ethical and social challenges.
  • The demand creates a ground to lure the vulnerable to sell their organs as witnessed in the recent kidney scandal in Assam.
  • A spate of kidney, liver and heart transplants from non-human primates to humans happened in the 1970s. A majority of them failed.
  • This is attributed to organ rejection — our immune system rejects agents that are foreign to the body. Surgical complications were also behind the failure.
  • In 1984, a human infant received a heart from a baboon. She died 21 days after the transplant.
  • Primates fell out of favour in the 1990s because they were susceptible to virus spread. This brought pigs into the spotlight.
  • In 2017, Chinese surgeons reportedly transplanted pig cornea to restore sight in a human.
  • In 2020, US experts attached a genetically-altered kidney to a brain-dead person.


Why Pigs?
  • Pigs are genetically modifiable to reduce the chances of rejection by the human body.
  • Pig organs are anatomically comparable in size, and new infectious agents are less likely since they have been in close contact with humans through domestication for many generations.
  • PETA has decried the pig heart transplant, it said animals aren’t tool sheds to be raided.

Source: THE HINDU.