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For the last ten years, there has been an extensive study happening at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda Maryland. In this study, researchers have been implanting pig hearts into baboons in an effort to figure out how to safely use animal organs for transplant into people. In the U.S. alone, some 22 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant that is never going to come. This is caused by the incredibly short supply of human organs available for transplant, and it is this issue that the research being done at NIH is hoping to eliminate.
Last week, the scientists at NIH reported a record breaking length of survival in one of the test subjects. They were able to keep a viable pig heart alive and beating in the abdomen of a healthy male baboon for almost 3 years. It is important to note that this was accomplished using a hefty dose of immune suppressing medications to keep the baboon’s body from rejecting the organ. For that reason (as well as many others), the researchers say we are still a long way off from any human trials.
This is a huge breakthrough for both the medical and the scientific community. Not so very long ago, research like this was thought of as “some wild experiment with no real world application”. This finding suggests otherwise, though. If scientists are able to devise a way to use pig organs as transplants for humans, it may put an end to people dying because they could not find a donor.