This Little Cloned Pig Went to Market

September 7, 2000

Scientists call interspecies transplants xenotransplantation. Sounds like something you would hear as the "word of the day." But we are going to be hearing this word a lot more than just on the morning show. Scientists have already cloned a pig for the purpose, and she is fittingly called Xena. This little pig may be ready to go to market, but she's got lots of scientists scared.

Because of their physiological similarity to human beings, pigs hold the promise of providing replacement hearts, kidneys, and other organs. The prospect raises some questions about the ethics and propriety of the procedures. If nothing else, I would expect animal rights activists to balk at the idea.

But the demand is certainly there. More than 70,000 Americans are on waiting lists for new hearts, livers, kidneys, etc. Fewer than 20,000 will receive these organs in time. Interspecies transplants from pigs offer a realistic hope.

The major barrier to xenotransplantation comes from a sugar molecule found in pig cells that causes the human immune system to reject the organ. Usually transplanted pig organs are rejected within a few hours.

As you might imagine, scientists have been working to modify or eliminate the gene responsible for producing the sugar molecule that causes all the problems. The birth of Xena the pig puts scientists closer to this goal. But some scientists are very concerned about the prospect of pig organ transplants.

A new scientific report documents that pig cells can infect human cells with a potentially dangerous virus. Researchers found that when pig cells were injected into mice with compromised immune systems, the animals caught the virus. This suggests that humans would catch the virus as well.

This latest scare is just one more reason why scientists need to go slow with their scientific research into xenotransplantation.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.