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SCIENTISTS say that improvements in transplantation in recent years have created such a demand for organs among desperately ill patients that xenotransplantation, most likely with tissue from nonhuman primates or, even likelier, pigs, is the only hope for easing the shortfall.
For the most part, clinical scientists beat a hasty retreat back to the laboratory after surgeons in 1984 grafted a baboon heart into a 15-day-old infant. "Baby Fae" lived just 20 days before her body rejected the animal organ. But the controversy surrounding the case lingered far longer, and transplant surgeons, aware of the then-insurmountable problem of immune rejection of animal organs, largely refrained from attempting similar procedures.
In the decade or so since that operation, however, enormous strides in understanding the immune system and in genetic engineering technology-coupled with the increasing demand of thousands of patients waiting in vain for a suitable organ—have thrust xenotransplantation back into the
Stephenson J. Xenotransplantation Workshop Ponders Science, Safety of Animal Tissue Grafts. JAMA. 1995;274(4):285-288. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530040009002