The U.S. organ transplant wait-list includes about 120,000 patients, far more people than the number of human donors, according to Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, chief of transplantation at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. To make up for this shortage, he and fellow scientists are refining xenotransplantation technology so animal organs could provide a stopgap until more are human ones are available or even replace human ones completely.
Genetic Engineering Controls Tissue Rejection
Recipients’ immune systems tend to reject donor tissues, which makes successful transplantation challenging. To overcome this problem, theresearchersused special pig hearts. Genetic engineering removed genes that caused tissue rejection in humans and replaced them with specific human genes that don’t trigger immune reactions. Pigs were ideal because their anatomy is similar to human anatomy, and they mature very quickly.
Without replacing baboons’ hearts, the scientists implanted pig hearts into these primates and connected them to the recipients’ circulatory systems. They gave immunosuppressive drugs to the baboons, and the transplanted hearts survived for more than 500 days.
“Now, we are at a stage when we can control the rejection — the most difficult part,” Mohiuddin said. The next step will be to perform transplants that replace the baboons’ hearts with genetically engineered pig hearts. If that process is successful, the researchers can move on to human trials. Besides hearts, they have the potential to transplant other organs including liver, kidney, pancreas, and lung from animals to humans.
How to Avoid Needing a Transplant
To prevent chronic organ failure and a necessary transplant, Dr. Christopher Barry, a liver and kidney transplant surgeon from Rochester, New York, recommends leading a healthy life, recognizing chronic disease symptoms, seeking timely treatments, and taking medications. Choose an online pharmacy that will save you up to 90 percent on prescriptions.
Diabetes: Autoimmune destruction of your pancreas’ insulin-producing cells causes Type 1 diabetes. In Type 2 diabetes, your body’s cells don’t respond to your pancreas producing normal insulin amounts. Common high blood sugar symptoms include excessive thirst, frequent urination, and fatigue. Chronic or poorly controlled diabetes complications include nerve damage, foot injuries, gangrene, amputation, heart disease, blindness, and kidney failure. Treatments include avoiding excess sugars and other carbohydrates, oral medicines, and insulin shots. If you progress to kidney failure, dialysis and transplant become essential.
High blood pressure: Besides genetic predisposition, contributing factors include a stressful lifestyle, excess salt intake, and inadequate exercise and relaxation such as meditation. Uncontrolled hypertension leads to stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure. Treatments include decreasing your salt consumption and many oral medications.
Heart disease: Stress, a high-fat/high-cholesterol diet, physical inactivity, and smoking increase your heart disease risk. Chronic heart failure and sudden death from heart attacks are leading causes of mortality worldwide. Implantable heart pumps are becoming common treatment. Heart transplant is relatively rare.
Obesity: A diet with too much fat, grease, and cholesterol, and not enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains makes maintaining a healthy weight difficult. But the main culprits for obesity are eating too much and exercising too little. Obesity can lead to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and joint problems. Obese people have shorter life spans than the general population.
Fatty liver disease: Risk factors include poor diet, overeating, inadequate physical activity, and diabetes. Reversible liver injury starts with accumulated fat droplets in liver cells. Inflammation and scarring of the liver can progress to cirrhosis, which can lead to liver failure and increased liver cancer risk; these in turn lead patients who need a transplant.
If a Transplant Is Necessary
Chronic kidney, liver, heart, and lung diseases are common, and transplantation is the best way to cure many cases. Barry ranks this life-transforming procedure as one of the most phenomenal successes of modern medicine. It’s extremely successful these days with the majority of recipients returning to happy, fully functional lives. To receive a transplant, you need a donor organ. Most come from deceased people, but live kidney, liver, and lung donations do occur.
Becoming a Donor
Potentially, one person can save up to nine lives through organ donation after their death: one heart, two lungs, two kidneys, splitting one liver in two, one pancreas, and intestines. Just one donor can improve up to 50 people’s lives dramatically through tissue donation such as corneas, bone, tendons, heart valves, blood vessels, and skin. If you’re apprehensive about becoming a donor, Barry addresses common fears and misinformation that drive erroneous organ donation myths.
Lack of care: Don’t worry about doctors not taking care of organ donors. All medical professionals devote themselves to saving lives — even in the most extreme circumstances. Everyone, regardless of organ donor status, receives the same level and quality of care. A separate team handles the transplant process only after a patient’s death.
Age and health donor exclusions: People in their 70s and 80s donate live-saving organs. Current or past health problems don’t disqualify you from pledging your organs. Transplant doctors decide if organs are suitable upon donation.
Religious issues: All major organized religions support an individual’s decision to be an organ donor. Barry considers donation a profoundly spiritual act that honors the sanctity of life.
Donor treatment: Organ donors receive the utmost care, respect, and dignity. Barry removes donor organs with compassionate, non-disfiguring operations.
Costs: No organ donor’s family or estate incurs any transplant costs.
Unfair advantages: The transplant allocation process is unbiased. People with celebrity, political, or financial power do not jump to the top of the waiting list.