Thomas R. O'Donnell

The ramifications of using pigs for people parts

In Uncategorized, University research on April 5, 2022 at 12:22 pm
University of Maryland surgeons prepare a pig heart for transplant into a 57-year-old man. Credit: University of Maryland.
University of Maryland Medical Center surgeons prepare a pig heart for transplant into a 57-year-old man. Credit: University of Maryland.

Xenotransplantation – replacing human organs with ones from animals – has advanced since I reported last fall that the first pig kidney attached to a living human came from Iowa.

Doctors repeated the experiment at least twice, once at the University of Alabama at Birmingham on September 30, 2021 and again at New York University, which conducted the first kidney xenotransplant.

Then, in early January, University of Maryland Medical Center surgeons replaced a 57-year-old man’s failing heart with one from a genetically engineered pig. He has since died.

All the organs came from Revivicor, a division of medical conglomerate United Therapeutics. The first kidney transplanted at NYU came from a pig raised at an Iowa facility operated by Exemplar Genetics, a subsidiary of Sioux Center’s Trans Ova Genetics.

The pigs are engineered to remove three genes that would prompt a human body to reject the transplanted organ. Six human genes that Revivicor inserted into swine DNA are designed to help human bodies accept a transplanted organ.

The genetically modified pigs must be raised in medically conditions avoid exposing them to diseases hogs share with humans. Trans Ova subsidiary Exemplar specializes in providing such settings for research animals.

Although the first NYU kidney came from Iowa, it appears the other pig organs may have come from elsewhere. The Alabama pig was raised at the university. The New Yorker magazine notes that the heart transplanted in Maryland came from a Virginia facility.

Iowa may not have a monopoly on genetically modified hogs for transplant purposes, but the question remain: Is it ethical to turn animals into spare parts stores for humans?

Iowa company produced first pig kidney grafted onto a human patient

In Industry Research, Uncategorized, University research on November 28, 2021 at 4:24 pm
A genetically engineered pig kidney, raised in Iowa, is cleaned and prepared for transplantation to a human. Credit: Joe Carrotta for NYU Langone Health.

The day is nearing when doctors will safely transplant animal kidneys, hearts and other organs to ailing humans.

When they do, there’s a good chance that animals providing those body parts will be grown in Iowa – at least in the early stages.

In September, New York University surgeons connected a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a patient destined to die but kept alive on a ventilator. (The subject’s family consented to the experiment.) The kidney functioned normally, removing urine and other wastes from the person’s bloodstream, for more than two days. Because researchers had modified the pig’s genetic code, there were no signs of immediate – hyperacute – rejection from the patient’s immune system.

The Associated Press reported last month that the pig was part of a herd of 100 raised “in tightly controlled conditions at a facility in Iowa.”

I’ve identified the Iowa company that did the work and the facility’s likely, approximate location. What’s less clear is what animal-sourced organs could mean for the state.

Framing: How Dickinson County denizens comprehended and handled the pandemic

In Government, University research on March 31, 2021 at 7:45 am

Antique postcard saying Greetings from Lake Okoboji, Iowa

Lake Okoboji (which is a misnomer; there is no Lake Okoboji, but there are West Lake Okoboji and East Lake Okoboji) postcard, circa 1939. Copyright 2012 by Steven R. Shook. Used with permission.

Emily Mendenhall arrived in Okoboji, her hometown in Iowa’s Great Lakes region, in June 2020 – just as the area became a COVID-19 hotspot. Confirmed cases burst from just eight to 200 in one month. As she later learned, there probably were even more, as many young people skipped testing, accepted their fate and nursed themselves back to health. Cases that tourists contracted in Dickinson County also may have been attributed to their home counties or states.

It was a drastic contrast to the situation Mendenhall, her husband, Adam Koon, and their two elementary school-aged daughters had left.

“I came from D.C., where everything was shut down and everyone was taking it so seriously,” said Mendenhall, a professor of global health in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “And then I came to a place where everyone’s like, ‘whatever.’”

As I described in my previous post, Mendenhall and Koon, an assistant scientist in the International Health Department in the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, joined with others to understand why so few Dickinson County citizens heeded public health advice – sometimes with dire consequences. They interviewed nearly 100 residents of the summer destination, most of whom live there year-round.

We’ll look into their fascinating – but in some respects unsurprising – analysis.

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