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18 January 2023

Xenotransplants, From Promise to Reality Thanks to CRISPR

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2022 has marked an important turning point for xenotransplantation, as the first successful transplantation of a pig heart into a human with end-stage heart disease has brought the possibility of a viable reality closer. However, to fully realise the potential, significant hurdles remain to be overcome. These include preventing transmission of endogenous viruses or other porcine diseases to the transplant recipient, as well as ensuring medium- and long-term acceptance of the organ without rejection. Clinical trials with patients will be essential to address these challenges and realise the full potential of xenotransplantation.

In the middle of the last decade, the World Health Organisation reported that more than 114,000 organ transplants per year were performed worldwide, providing a new chance at life to less than 10% of patients in need. The most viable alternative to address this shortage of available organs is xenotransplantation, meaning the transplantation of animal organs into humans. Pig organs are generally preferred, as these animals are anatomically and physiologically similar to humans, can be subject to strict veterinary control and are genetically modifiable to reduce the risk of immune rejection. It would be the culmination of a centuries-long scientific endeavour that began in the 17th century: 

Miguel Barral


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