Animal Farm — The Promise of Xenotransplantation


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No one would dispute that there is a shortage of hearts, kidneys, or livers for those who require a new one. Last year in the United States alone, 6,000 people died while awaiting an organ transplant.
Campaigns to increase organ donation have been somewhat successful — do you have an organ donation sticker on your driver’s license? But these efforts have not met the overwhelming need. In addition, an increased focus on safety, including the use of seat belts and helmets, has reduced the number of organs available as a result of fatality.
In efforts to meet demand, researchers are exploring an alternative source: animal organs. Xenotransplantation, as the process is known, is any procedure that involves the transplantation, implantation, or infusion into a human recipient of either live cells, tissues, or organs from a nonhuman source, or cells, tissues, or organs that have ex vivo (outside the body) contact with nonhuman cells.
But after much hype and high expectations for animal-to-human organ transplants in the past 20 years, researchers still have been unable to overcome some basic problems. Xenotransplantation is technically complicated; much still needs to be done to address the immune system’s rejection of animal organs. There also are ethical concerns about “animal-part farms” and viral disease…

Milestones in Xenotransplantation

Experts on this topic
Bill Anthony. Intellectual Property Partner, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, Silicon Valley, Calif.; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe is a
full-service law firm
David Ayares, Ph.D. Chief Operating Officer and VP of Research at the U.S. division of PPL Therapeutics Plc., Blacksburg, Va.; PPL­ ­Therapeutics is one of the world’s leading companies in the ­application of transgenic technology to the production of human proteins and peptides; the U.S. division of PPL is pursuing research focused on regenerative medicine, xenografts, and stem cells
Mark Fox, M.D., Ph.D. Director of the program transplant ethics and policy at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, N.Y., and chairman of the ethics committee of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), Richmond, Va.; The University of Rochester Medical Center is at the heart of medical knowledge and expertise for Central New York State and the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York; UNOS’ mission is to advance organ availability and transplantation by uniting its communities for the benefit of patients through education, technology, and policy ­development
Julia Greenstein, Ph.D. President and CEO, Immerge ­Bio­Therapeutics Inc., Charlestown, Mass.; Immerge is a joint venture between Novartis ­Pharma AG and BioTransplant Inc.; the company, which began ­operations in January 2001, focuses its research efforts toward ­developing therapeutic applications for xenotransplantation
Liz Howard. Intellectual property partner, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, Silicon Valley, Calif.; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe is a full-service law firm
Matt Kaplan. Biotechnology analyst, Punk Ziegel & Co., New York; Punk, Ziegel & Co. is a specialty investment bank that provides a full range of research, equity market making, and corporate finance ­services centered around high-growth sectors within the healthcare technology and biotechnology industries
Elliot Lebowitz, Ph.D. CEO, BioTransplant Inc., Charlestown, Mass.; BioTransplant develops therapeutics and systems around its unique and proprietary technology to re-educate the body’s immune system to accept transplanted cells, tissues, and organs by recognizing them as “self”; this technology is designed to ­overcome the serious side effects associated with organ ­transplantation or stem-cell transplantation to treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases
Robert Mendez, M.D. Chairman and co-founder of the National ­Institute of Transplantation, St. Vincent Medical Center, Los Angeles, Dr. Mendez also is a kidney transplant surgeon and a member of the National Institute of Health’s advisory committee on ­xenotransplantation; St. Vincent Medical Center is a world-renowned medical center specializing in multi-organ transplantation, cancer care, heart care, ear and hearing disorders, and spine care