Scientists in London and California have begun conducting the genetic experiments to find a solution to record-long waiting lists for organ transplants, fertility specialist Robert Winston said in an opinion piece written for Britain's Sunday Times.
In Britain alone, around 8 000 patients are waiting for a transplant. "People needing a new heart or liver are waiting for someone else to die - usually a violent death in a traffic accident," Winston wrote in the newspaper. He said his team was "trying to modify pigs so their organs might save the lives of humans."
The scientists are introducing human genes into the animals to reduce the chances of the organs being rejected by patients, as has been common in previous attempts to use animal tissues, said Wintston, who heads the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at London's Hammersmith Hospital. Working in tandem with Dr Carol Redhead of the California Institute of Technology, Winston's team has injected human genes directly into male piglets, adding them to the animal's sperm.
Some still criticise technique
He said that pigs involved in experiments had successfully produced transgenic sperm, but acknowledged that British and European laws had prevented the team from using the pigs to mate.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported that the experiments would be moved to the United States following difficulties with funding and regulations in Britain. It said the pigs would be bred in Missouri.
"Our US friends will benefit from our technology, and yet another British innovation will be jeopardised; the income we might have generated for Britain will be lost," Winston wrote.
Some scientists have previously criticised the idea of using animal organs for human transplant, saying the technique risks spreading animal viruses to humans. Winston said his research project is attempting to breed virus-free pigs. – (Sapa, September 2008)