Xenotransplantation is a term that you would not hear on a daily basis, much less pronounce quickly or use in casual conversations. Unless, of course, if you are a scientist or work in biotechnology.
Taking out the technical mumbo-jumbo, xenotransplantation refers to a procedure of transplanting, implanting, or infusing live cells, organs or tissues from a non-human animal source to a human recipient. It kind of works the same way Frankenstein was created, but on a freakier level. Can you imagine having your heart valve replaced with that of a pig’s? Well, science is way past imagination and there have already been reported cases of a successful xenotransplant. Still, it remains to be a controversial topic, especially for proponents of creationism or the natural processes.
List of Pros of Xenotransplantation
1. Solves the problem of organ donor shortage
Although further scientific studies and experiments are needed to prove that animal organs can really replace human organs regularly, the possibility can definitely shorten the long list of people in search of organ donors. This will not only save lives, but also save the healthcare industry from the expensive costs of an organ transplant.
2. Provides a temporary fix
There are cases when waiting for an organ donor is a race against time, with the patient on the waiting list unable to reach the finish line. Through xenotransplantation, a patient in need of a new heart can buy time using a pig’s heart. This would allow them to live life, while waiting for a human heart to be available.
3. Opens up new possibilities in disease treatment
Some animals have amazing abilities to fight off diseases and infections. Crocodiles, for example, have antibodies in their blood that enables them to stay sick-free given their harsh living conditions. If these disease-fighting mechanisms can be integrated or used for humans, the world might be able to see the end of deadly diseases. This can also lead to prolonged human life, considering that some animals have longer life spans than humans.
List of Cons of Xenotransplantation
1. Increases the risk of organ rejection
It has been known to happen that human organs transplanted to another human are rejected by the host’s body. Imagine how a human body will react with a non-human animal organ integrated with it? This doubles or triples the risk of rejection, as the likelihood of the immune system attacking the implanted tissues is high.
2. Increases the risk of cross species contamination
In its simplest form, disease from animals can be transferred to humans through xenotransplantation. But what is really alarming is the fact that diseases can easily mutate to stay alive, so whatever virus and bacteria present in animal tissues could evolve when implanted into humans, resulting in new illnesses and diseases that science and medicine would have no idea how to fight off.
3. Leads to shorter life spans
Further research may lead to prolonged human life through the use of tissues or organs from animals that live longer. But the risk of contamination, infection and mutated disease can lower the lifespan of a human recipient.
Most animals used in xenotransplantation, also have shorter life spans than humans, which means that organ transplant have to be done more than once to maintain an overall quality of life for the recipient. Xenotransplantation presents amazing possibilities in the science and medical world, but the risks associated with it must not be overlooked.