Pig Heart in Baboon Paves Way for Animal-to-Human Organ Transplants

pig heart baboon transplant human
A pig's heart was kept beating in the abdomen of an immune-suppressed baboon for two years. Kevin Curtis/Science Source

Researchers have successfully kept a pig's heart alive inside a baboon for more than two years, paving the way for animal-to-human organ transplants.

In a paper published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, described how a pig's heart was grafted onto the baboon's abdomen.

Xenotransplantation—the process of transplanting organs between different species—is seen as a solution to the limitation of organ shortage among human patients.

"The main obstacle to xenotransplantation has been the strong immune reaction of the organ recipient, which leads to organ rejection and failure," a spokesperson for Nature Communications said in a statement.

"Scientists have been developing strategies to prevent organ rejection, such as tweaking the organ donors' genes associated with immune response and developing immune-suppressing drugs for the organ recipients."

In order to prevent the baboon from rejecting the pig's heart, the donor pig was genetically modified and the recipient baboon was given a combination of drugs and antibodies.

Pigs are seen as potential donor animals for humans due to their hearts being anatomically similar to that of a human.

Lead researcher Muhammad Mohiuddin, from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said the next step in the research would be a complete heart transplant from a pig to a baboon.

The study concludes: "If successful, the approaches described here could help translate xenotransplantation of the heart and other organs into a potentially transformative therapeutic option for the thousands of transplant candidates who may benefit from the timely availability of a porcine organ."