Xenotransplantation is the process of converting animal cells or organs into something that humans can use. It’s a process that has not seen much in the way of research over the years, but the field has been expanding as of late because of certain successes that have been seen. In particular, the heart valves of pigs have been show to be successful in replacing faulty heart valves that humans have. Could xenotransplantation be the next great field of medical research? There are some pros and cons to this process, so let’s take a look at those in some greater detail.
Pros of Xenotransplantation
It could end the need for human transplant lists.
With thousands of people waiting for an organ transplant right now, the ability to use animal organs instead of human donation organs could put an end to their waiting. This would ultimately save the medical community a lot of money because there would be fewer days of treatment required when an organ is approaching failure.
It could open up new fields of research.
Xenotransplantation opens up new possibilities in the world of disease treatment. Certain animals, like crocodiles, have an amazing ability to fight off infections and disease because of the anti-bodies that are in their blood. If we could use this field of research to adapt it to human needs, we might finally be able to see an end to deadly diseases like cancer.
It could prolong human life.
Some animals live much longer lifespans than humans do. By being able to study their cells and incorporate that information into our own bodies, we just might be able to see more centenarians roaming the earth on a regular basis.
Cons of Xenotransplantation
There is a high risk of rejection.
The human body doesn’t like things that are unfamiliar to it. That’s why blood transfusions must match blood types and direct organ donor matches have to be made. Because animal cells are distinctly different from human cells, the risks of having a transplant rejected are quite high if an entire animal organ is used.
There are some ethical concerns to think about.
If you we are using animals to supplement human life, then we are essentially exploiting them for our own needs. Some may see the use of animal organs as just another process of the food production industry. After all, many humans eat animals every day. Growing animals just to harvest their organs and not harvest their meat, however, would be a debate that society would need to hold.
There are longevity issues to consider.
Although some animals outlive humans, the average animal has a much shorter lifespan. Because of this, their tissues and organs also have a natural lifespan that will be shorter than what humans may need of it. This would require patients to undergo several procedures in order to maintain a high standard of health.
By weighing the pros and cons of xenotransplantation, we can all come together to decide if this is a field of medical research that we wish to pursue as a society. The gains can be incredible, but we have to figure out if the ends justify the means.