David K.C. Cooper, MD, PhD
Professor of Surgery
Guy’s Hospital Medical School, University of London, UK; MB, BS, Medicine/Surgery; Cardiothoracic Institute, University of London, UK, PhD, Surgical research
The potential of cross-species organ transplantation (xenotransplantation)
In view of the increasing shortage of organs and cells from deceased human donors, our laboratory has been investigating the possibility of using pig organs and cells in humans. We are exploring this largely through the development of genetically-engineered pigs that are resistant to the human immune response. This is being done in collaboration with colleagues at Revivicor, Inc., Blacksburg, VA, a small biotechnology company that has great expertise in genetic engineering.
There are currently approximately 130,000 patients waiting for an organ of one sort or another in the US, and yet only approximately 30,000 organs will become available during the current year. In addition, there are approximately 1-2 million people in the US taking insulin for Type 1 diabetes, and many of these patients could benefit from transplantation of pig islets (the cells that produce insulin).
Other areas where pigs could provide unlimited cells and tissues are (i) in the field of neuronal cell transplants for patients with certain neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, (ii) in providing corneas for the many millions of patients outside of the western world who would benefit from corneal transplantation, and eventually (iii) in providing pig red blood cells for transfusion into humans, particularly in areas where the availability of human blood is limited.
We are investigating these topics through in vitro laboratory studies using pig cells and human serum and immune cells, as well as in animal models of transplantation.