Pigs: The Next Organ Donors?

Swine heart transplant in baboon shows positive signs

This little piggy may be capable of saving a human's life one day. (Tommy Alsén/iStock)
Photo: Tommy Alsén/iStock

You might remember this fun fact from high school biology: A pig's heart is fairly similar to a human's. In fact, we currently swap human heart valves for those of pigs in certain procedures. We haven't yet reached the point of using an entire pig heart in human transplants, but according to new research presented yesterday, we are now one step closer.

More than a year ago, scientists grafted a pig's heart into a baboon, next to its own heart. Usually these transplants are rejected after six months, but today that heart is still going strong. That's because the scientists tweaked the pig donor's DNA to make it more human-compatible. 

This is good news for the approximately 3,000 people in the United States on the waiting list for a heart transplant. Because pigs have such a rapid breeding cycle, achieving successful pig heart transplants in humans could drastically reduce the wait time for a new ticker. The scientists are hopeful that other pig-to-human transplants (liver, kidney, intestines) will also be possible.

There's still a great deal more research to do before a pig-to-human transplant happens. The next step is to see how the pig's heart performs on its own in a baboon.

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