Heart goes 'oink, oink'

Published: Wednesday 15 November 1995

Take heart .. says Imutran, a Chambridge-based British biotechoology firm to ailing heart patients. It is preparing to present them with a brand new set of is organ that will be carved out i special breed of transgenic p dleveloped specifically for pairpose. The pigs are unique ammir their organs are i1pped to t"e a key protein A till Dow summarily rejected somy nansplant The latest set of procin hearts can effectively block this so called 'hyper acute rejection'or HAR syndrome.

Imutran began its quest for the ideal Pig in the mid-80s. Pigs were selected Because tbeir organs are about the same as buman organs. After decades of some research, Imutran decided to separate human genes in pigs to sive diat implanted organs are not m*e& And their strategy seems to a wmked. A triumphant David Jk co-founder and medical director Wspsim announced in a press conference som in London, that 10 monkeys, b of which had been given a heart mi one of the company's herd of transgenic pigs have survived more than 60 days after the operation. The previous records show that the animals had collapsed within 60 to 90 minutes. In other words a major obstacle has been overcome. The company is now confident that its technology is "ready to be tested on humans," and expects to start its first trials early next year at the Papworth hospital near Cambridge.

The researchers are extremely excited about this latest breakthrough. "it is a real step forward," exudes Fritz Bach of the Harvard Medical School's Sandoz Centre for Inummobiology.- He was the first to decipher the factor responsible for the rejection of donor organs - the dreaded HAR syndrome. The transplant surgeons too, are eagerly monitoring Imutran's progress. "We are waiting with bated breath for the case to be proven in clinical trials," says Michael Thick, member of the British Association in New Castle.

Of course, there are sceptics galore who argue that such experiments are premature. They claim that more research has to be put into studying other long term effects in addition to HAR which can lead to eventual transplant rejection. White, however, counters their argument by pointing out that the unexpectedly high survival levels of monkeys which were given transgenic hearts has boosted the company's confidence tremen- dously. "As far as we can see, the other hurdles have not raised their head at the timeframe of our experiment," he says. He accuses his critics of expecting too much too soon. "We are talking about designing a Model-T Ford, while other people are saying, 'let's not go out driving until we have a Ferrari'," he comments.

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