Doctors and Lawyers for Responsible Medicine

About DLRM

News & Campaigns


- Books
- Newsletter
- Speeches
- Soundbites
- Leaflets/Papers
- Contributions
- Links
- Miscellaneous

Contact Us

Join us


Animal-to-Human Transplants:
As Dangerous as Nuclear Fission?

Many scientists believe that the advent of genetic engineering techniques, combined with the use of animal-to-human organ transplants, raises some important scientific as well as ethical questions.

There is now a very real risk of creating new and catastrophic human epidemics through the proposed transplanting of animal organs (genetically engineered or otherwise) into humans, thereby giving rise to the possibility of unknown viruses crossing the species barrier - a single instance of which could unleash an irreversible chain reaction of unimaginable proportions upon the world.

Common sense should tell us that transgenic transplantation (or xenotransplantation) actually represents one experimental technique (the production of transgenic animals) superimposed on yet another experimental technique (the transplantation of organs into human beings). This situation translates into a statistical nightmare, since there is an exponential increase in unknown risks.

The danger of transmitting known as well as unknown viruses and bacteria from animals to man is a matter for major concern. Even the use of SPF (specific pathogen-free) animals, thoroughly tested as they are for known diseases, cannot eliminate this risk.

Jonathan Allen, a virologist at the South-West Foundation for Bio-Medical Research in San Antonio, Texas, was recently quoted as saying:

"This is a big mistake. It only takes one transmission from one baboon to one human to start an epidemic. There's no way you can make it safe."

Are we risking another AIDS epidemic?

Professor Gianni Tamino, Professor of Biology at the University of Padua, Italy, and European Deputy of the Italian Parliament for the Green Party, denounces this research on the grounds that it ignores "the danger of transmitting a virus from one species to another, with the resultant spread of new and unforeseeable epidemics like that of AIDS, which is generally held to have been generated by a mutation in the SIV virus transmitted from monkey to man."

A horror-film scenario...

In 1992, Thomas E Starzl (one of the pioneers of transgenic transplants at the University of Pittsburgh, USA) transplanted a baboon liver into an HIV patient suffering from Hepatitis B. The patient survived for 70 days. His case history reads like a horror-film scenario.

"By turns, he suffered from septic intoxication, oesophagitis, viraemia (the presence of viruses in the blood), haemmorhaging in the pleural (chest) cavity, and later from circulatory collapse, as well as an acute cough. In the end, kidneys and liver failed, and a bile engorgement was produced. The patient finally died from internal bleeding."

The growing call for caution

Many researchers are now calling for caution. According to the German magazine Der Spiegel, Claus Hammer of the University of Munich (probably Germany's most prominent xenotransplant expert) said:

"Defensive reactions depend on a multitude of additional biochemical and physiological factors. One of these is the presence of natural congenital antibodies, which are a vital element of the immune system - yet they still turn out to be shrouded in mystery."

More and more scientists are warning of the possible danger:

"The potential risk to public health - therefore also to patients' rights - from these transplants would appear to far outweigh the questionable benefits from such experimental procedures."

Alternatives to transgenic transplants

At present, the most appropriate source of organs for transplantation is the human being, but, as demand far outstrips supply, the solution would be to decrease the demand, or to increase the supply, or both. One way of decreasing the demand would be to implement primary preventive health campaigns on a far greater scale than at present, commencing at as early an age as possible, based on current knowledge in the field of preventive medicine, both conventional and complementary.

We also need to redefine health in positive terms as 'glowing health', and not simply the absence of disease, in order to emphasise the idea behind true preventive medicine. This approach, coupled with the currently available organs from human donors, could go a long way towards fulfilling the needs of transplant patients.

Click for the top of the page


| About Us | News & Campaigns | Resources | Contact Us | Join Us |