Advantages and disadvantages of Xenotransplantation
So in the last few articles, we looked at the history of xenotransplantation, the health risks involved and looked into the involvement of animals too. This penultimate issue will look at all of the advantages and disadvantages of xenotransplantation that we have seen so far and put them together for our conclusion next week! If you are new to this series read our first article here!
A larger supply of organs for the donation lists – Organs can be acquired as soon as they are needed, avoiding the effects of death on the tissue. The technology of Xenotransplantation is said to provide an unlimited amount of organs and tissues, therefore, all transplantations can be performed promptly and death on the waiting list will be avoided. Furthermore, with access to pig organs more liberal age limits could be applied, making it possible to accept a wider range of patients (E.g. elderly patients).
Removes religious issues – Removes the issue of the cultural obstacles that deceased human donation present in some countries (E.g. countries where removing organs from deceased human beings is made difficult by cultural issues). Also, the use of organs from deceased or living human donors will become obsolete. Therefore, the ethical problems that accompany the use of related or unrelated living donors, will be avoided.
Provides exogenous infection-free sources of organs, tissues, and cells. Graft rejection is alleviated by modifying the donor tissue through genetic engineering thus, making the outcome less susceptible to the passing human disease
The use of animal organs is a viable option – Due to the shortage of human organs available and considering the high degree technological advancements associated with the practice, the use of animal organs could potentially limit waiting time immensely and spare the many lives of those who are on an extensive waiting list. Using animals to treat and heal humans may be seen as a more beneficial use of animals, which will lead to an increase in their social value and worth. In addition to this, pigs are promising candidates as donors of organs as they are easily bred, relatively free from microorganism contamination and easier to control against infection. Pigs have been livestock for the human race for an extensive period of time and therefore, should be acceptably used for our medical purposes as well. The body structures of pigs are also similar to humans (E.g. kidneys and digestive systems) which is why they are regarded as one of the most promising donor candidates.
New technologies such as tissue engineering, shows great promise – With organs from the current genetically engineered pigs and with potent immunosuppressive therapy, rejection can largely be prevented and/or delayed. One should acknowledge the fact that allotransplantation, took decades to reach its present state of success, and certain complications have still yet to be solved (particularly with long-term graft survival-chronic rejection). Therefore, it is clearly unlikely that xenotransplantation will become successful and without complication overnight. With the rapid technological advancements of today’s society, there will also be a steady improvement regarding the availability of pigs with even more advanced genetic manipulations; thus, potentially breaking down the immune barrier that stands.
Ethical Issues – The main cause for concern of Xenotransplantation is the controversy of whether or not it is a safe and morally just technology.
The risk of rejection – in which the recipient’s body attacks the new organ like an infection, is the greatest practical obstacle to xenotransplantation. The breeding of transgenic pigs as well as new cloning techniques may be used to reduce the risk of organ rejection.
Preventing hyperacute rejection – rapid graft rejection that occurs within minutes of transplantation due to antibodies in the organ recipients bloodstream that react with the new organ, resulting in organ failure (very similar to that of which occurs when organ allotransplantation is carried out across the ABO blood type barrier). This occurs within the first few hours after transplantation.
Preventing chronic rejection – slow and severe graft rejection occurring often more than a month after transplantation, and frequently accompanied by acute changes.
Xenosis – An infectious bacteria transmitted from animal to human by the transplantation of an animal tissue or organ into a human body (transmission of viruses from xenografts into humans). The possibility of xenosis raises questions about the safety of xenotransplantation and could also potentially place the general public at risk by creating a major new epidemic.
The reckless use of animals – May cause mayhem in the “natural order” in its effect on the animals, and this should lead us to question the morality of doing so. A hastened assessment will direct us to a false conclusion that, since it is ethical to use animals for consumption, then their use as organ donors should be even more acceptable. However, the prevention of disease acquisition in the donor animals results in increased suffering on the part of the animal of choice (e.g. pigs) in the form of isolated development and rigorous viral and bacterial tests. The idea of animal testing illuminates the argument of animal cruelty and superiority of humans over animals and evolvement of xenotransplantation may be the spark to set fire to this argument.
Identity confusion – There is no doubt that transplantation jolts the recipient’s identity. Even in the case of allogeneic transplantation, an identity problem arises the question: “Am I still Me?” Even an atheist or non-religious person could not help feeling doubt for his/her identity when he/she is kept alive because an animal’s organ is planted into his/her body. With this kind of technology comes the potential to decrease one’s self-image despite intense counselling on the neutrality of the occurrence.
Immune barrier – This technology could possibly expose the world to an epidemic of disease we have never seen before. For example, we know of the devastating Ebola virus, HIV and the most recent disease that has a possibility of spreading to humans, (PERV) pig endogenous retrovirus.
To overcome a hyperacute type of rejection, we have to “humanise” pigs and “pignise” humans. However, normal immunosuppressants like Cyclosporine and FK506 will not prevent acute rejection resulting from xenotransplantation, especially when the operation is practised between distant species like humans and pigs. Some people suggest that we should use chimpanzees and monkeys as donors to prevent rejection, as they are much more similar to humans than pigs. Other people, however, are strongly against it. There is a serious doubt that animal welfare might be in danger if we use species close to the human race as organ donors. Besides, there not being enough monkeys, the biggest problem remains the risk of infection from disease. Here, we have to remember that AIDS was transferred to humans from monkeys.
After looking through our Advantages and Disadvantages of Xenotransplantation, what is your stance on the issue? Let us know in the comments below or find us on social media! Come back next week for the final issue on xenotransplantation.