Tainted parts of genetically altered pigs are now showing up on the EU's menu, apparently.
Ban on pig organ research is lifted
03 June 2001
A voluntary freeze on research into using pig organs for human transplants is expected to be lifted by the European Commission, following appeals from its scientific advisers.
Despite widespread public fears about the risks and ethics of pig organ transplants, European commissioners are under pressure to agree to a new European Union-funded programme of research into the safety of the technique later this year.
The commission's scientific advisory panel on medicinal products has now agreed that the EU should launch a research programme into the risks that animal transplants could lead to potentially lethal animal diseases leaping the species barrier.
The precise risk of lethal viruses crossing into humans is unknown but scientists fear that it could lead to a major disease or virus outbreak, similar to the spread of HIV from monkeys and nvCJD from BSE.
This uncertainty is regarded as one of the main obstacles to performing animal organ transplants successfully, which is known as xenotransplantation, and is most likely to involve pig organs and tissues. There are also fears that using genetically modified pigs could risk diseases mutating.
The proposals are expected to reignite the controversy over xenotransplantation and will provoke a further row with human rights groups over proposals to restrict a patient's legal rights to walk out on medical trials.
Because of the risks of patients contracting an unknown or contagious animal disease, and transmitting it to their families and the wider population, the committee argues that patients should be forced to remain in quarantine until proven to be healthy. They may also have to promise not to have children and agree to life-long medical tests.
Anti-vivisectionists warned yesterday they would oppose research. "This is a backward step for animal welfare," said Sarah Kite of the British Union Against Vivisection. "It's just treating animals literally as spare parts for humans. This could also unleash something disastrous on to the planet."
Supporters of xenotransplantation argue that it could solve a worldwide shortage of organs for transplant. Experiments are also under way to use pig tissues to cure Parkinson's and diabetes, which are expected to increase greatly.