Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Oink For Organs!!

Watching someone slowly die has to be one of the hardest things to witness. Hurricane Katrina and September 11th showed us the difficulties of death. Though these disasters have passed, there are the daily health battles that people fight inside to stay alive. A burden to families and a race that America is still running is the amount of people in dire need of an organ transplant. Nowadays with all of the new medicines and technologies, people are surpassing the average age making the need for livers, kidneys, hearts, and lungs, skyrocket as their systems begin to fail.

Unfortunately, people die everyday because there are not enough donors to cover the long list of recipients waiting for a transplant. Families have no choice but to miserably watch their loved ones die when they may have actually had a second chance at life. As from the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing, there are around 80,000 people currently awaiting a transplant. Consequently, more than 5,000 of those people die each year before their time comes. That adds up to about 18 people each day.

Until recently, people on the donor list only hoped that their names reached the top before it is too late. In a Boston Herald article, scientists, including Dr. David Sachs of the Transplantation Biology Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital are currently finding new discoveries that may help save many people’s lives and lessen the amount of organs needed. Xenotransplantation, the use of animal organs in humans, is the new method proposed hoping to help some of the ill individuals.

However in the nature article, Daniel Salomon of the Scripps Research Institute calls for other ways the research funding money should be spent. He as well as other opponents call the idea unrealistic and unlikely arguing that the money be used for treatable and preventable diseases. Salomon claims that the possible unknown viruses that may develop and the problems they may cause are too risky to use on humans. His coworkers claim that porcine endogenous viruses can affect the human cells and lead to bodily infections. Because the human immune system eliminates foreign bodies, Salomon sees this as a possible threat. Salomon worries about the consequences associated with the immunity of humans and pigs will lead to far too many more negative outcomes than positives. From a political viewpoint, Salomon also contends that allowing the trials to continue may persuade other countries to become involved in the research.

Salomon only thinks pessimistically about the health related components of the organs. Understandably, there are some diseases at risk such as HIV, but some researchers respond to discovery as if HIV has not already been here. Pig organs do not necessarily mean more HIV. Of course, like all drugs and discoveries new to science, there are some side effects. When we take cold medicines and prescription drugs, do the labels not warn us of some of the potentially dangerous effects? Yet we still take them because we hope that they will make us feel better and give us the benefit it promotes. Just think of all the saved lives in the future due because of a team who watched so many people die and decided to make a change. Though the research may not be fully reliable yet, technology used for the testing Xenotransplantation is not “dead” as some may claim. It can only get better if and only if federal funding allows and the team looks beyond destructive criticism such as Salomon.

So many people will benefit from this research if all goes according to plan. Doctors will carefully plan surgeries so that the organs will function correctly. Knowing that the doctor took his time would mean that the patient gets the best results with their new organ. With only one organ available, what happens if the doctors do something wrong and the organ malfunctions? This would not be a problem if the pigs become useful because the all of the extra organs would rid doctors of their worries. Not only would this satisfy the availability of organs but it would also help some patients who experience HIV or Hepatitis B. Therefore, you see, there may be a possible win, win situation for those worried about diseases!

With other research teams giving the MGH team a hard time, you would think that federal funding would provide the scientists who try to help change the world with money. Needless to say, some are even as pessimistic as Salomon. The slow income of funding impedes the progression of success. Who has the right to say that the idea will never work unless they continue to try to do better each time? In 2004, the scientist put one of the kidneys into a baboon that lived for 83 days. Although the baboon did not live a full year, those 83 days show that it may be possible to trick the immune system.

Our futures may very well be in the hands of these special pigs and belittling the aspirations of the scientist too soon may mean more lives lost. Reducing the number of people on the waiting list seems likely with this innovation in science. The progress made by the scientist increases each year as the team more breeds pigs that lose one of the sugar molecules that would originally trigger a response in the immune system. If the gene GGTA1 no longer shows up in the immune system, many people will not have to worry about going without an organ. In a few months or years, these engineered pigs will be able to remove all the GGTA1 genes and progress towards salvaging the lives of many desperate patients.

Who knows. Pig organs may very well become the best kidneys, livers, or lungs available to man. The number of lives affected by the success of this research gives some hope to families who thought their time would never come. Although no one has been able to do it yet, the sky is the limit in the future of pig parts for people. It would more than a relief to the families to know that their family member will spend more time with each other. While the time has not yet arrived, in the future, pigs may serve as more than a side to a breakfast plate.

Fargen, Jessica. (2006 Oct 29 ). Hog-wild for Pig Organs. Boston, Boston Herald.
Retrieved February 5, 2007.
Lemonick, Michael D. (2002 Jan 14). Pig parts for People. Academic Search Premier,
159(2). Retrieved February 5, 2007.
Nature. (2000 Aug 17). The trials of Xenotransplantation, 406(661). Retrieved February
5, 2007.

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