Xenotransplantation A Glimpse Of Hope In Modern Medicine | Meaning of xenotransplantation


Do you know that there are thousands of people who owe their lives to pieces of nonhuman cells?

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For the past years, people have been replacing damaged human organs with nonhuman cells. This process is known as transplantation. Put in other words, it would go as the transplantation of organs from one species to another.

Sounds weird right?

Xenotransplantation draws so much interest because of the serious shortage of human organs the healthcare industry has been subjected to. In 2019, a recent study from the Association France Transplant through the Agency of Biomedicine reports that 500 to 800 patients die each year for lack of a transplant.

Transplantation from human to human is not always an easy task. Most of the time the difficulty lies in the mismatching aspect of blood types or more, the new organ is often rejected by the recipient because of what is known here as human leukocyte antigen.

You might be wondering why?

Well, almost every person is unique. This uniqueness makes each person to have a different kinds of what is known here as human leukocyte antigen. So when you undergo a transplantation process and the donor’s human leukocyte antigen looks new or foreign to your immune system, it will definitely attack the transplanted tissues. This can probably lead to many other complications that we prefer not to list here. This mismatching problem puts so many people on the waiting list for years.


There are a few ways around this problem and one of them is to try to approach this problem from a complete different angle; skip human and move to animals, mainly pigs. This is not exactly something to be excited about but the truth is that human beings have so much in common with pigs.

Well, this might be a bitter pill to swallow but it is what it is. Most humans have an immune system that somehow functions in a similar way to pigs and your organs happen to be doing the same things.  

Thanks to this process, the idea or concept of the perfect match between animal cells and human cells has been established. Therefore, animals happen to win the role of first choice donors since they are all available, unlike humans.

But a question stands still, how did that start?

The very first attempt to xenotransplantation date back to 1667 when Sean Baptist, a French doctor performed lamb blood transfusion on a boy. In the Second World War, a scientist named Medawar made many experiences that were all punished by failure. In 1963, Reemtsma carried out 13 xenotransplantation.

He did transplanted chimpanzee kidneys into terminally ill patients. Sadly those process were all punished by failure except one case which was putting into picture a lady who died nine-month after receiving the kidney. A careful autopsy shows that the kidney was normal and has not been rejected.  

Objectives of xenotransplantation

Xenotransplanttioan aims at saving the lives of patients. This procedure is always performed in a dramatic context. The ultimate goal of xenotransplantation is to allow the transplantation of animal organs or cells with immediate function in the recipient. This approach would immediately eliminate the shortage of human organs available for transplantation, which currently results in a significant rate of mortality of patients on the transplant waiting list.

Immunological differences between pigs and humans lead to immediate rejection of pig tissues by humans, but this rejection has been partially controlled by the genetic modification of pigs. Because of the risk of infection by pathogens passing from animals to humans, the World Health Organization recommends that clinical application should only take place when appropriate regulations are being set or applied.

Risks of xenotransplantation

From the 1960s to the 1980s, several attempts at xenotransplantation were made. They all ended in the death of the patients. At first, surgeons tried to keep this secret and sometimes hid certain information about these operations.

It is important to recall that pigs are the ideal donor for human xenotransplantation at this time. However, this process comes with its own set of risks. Immunological rejection of the animal tissue, molecular incompatibility, metabolic differences between the donor organ and humans, the risks of transmission of infectious diseases just to name them are the complications that can occur.


Cellular xenotransplants can be used to treat people with diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, or Parkinson's. Tissue xenotransplantation can be used for skin grafts for burn victims, corneal grafts for the visually impaired, or bone grafts for limb reconstruction.

Final thought

It is important to understand that xenotransplantation has been a solution to ease the pain of patients. The many improvements made in the field of xenotransplantation and the clinical trials are signs of hope for all those people suffering.

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