A baboon that received a heart transplant from a pig donor as part of an experiment has survived for 195 days after the surgery.

The experiment detailed in a new study is a step forward to the possibility of using animal organs in human patients who desperately need a heart transplant.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

Pig Heart In A Baboon Body

There are more people who need organ transplants than donors. In the United States, nearly 4,000 people continue to wait for a heart transplant.

One of the ideas scientists have proposed is the use of the organ of another species. The process is called xenotransplantation and many believe that it is the answer to the shortage of donated organs.

"Transplantation prolongs life and adds a high, almost unrealistic quality of life, if you can do it," stated Bruno Reichart from LMU Munich in Germany and the author of the study. "So why not a [pig] heart? It's very similar to our own heart."

This is not the first time that xenotransplantation has been attempted with baboons. In a previous experiment, a baboon also received a pig heart. It lived for 57 days.

A more successful case, however, was when a baboon survived for a total of 945 days after being transplanted with a pig's heart.

For the most recent experiment, though, the scientists modified the pig's heart. The baboons were also given immunosuppressants to prevent their bodies from rejecting the organs.

The scientists went through several trial and errors, adjusting the amount of time that the heart was disconnected from a heart supply and the baboons' blood pressure in each case. In the end, four baboons survived 90 to 195 days after surgery. In addition, only one of the baboons that survived showed signs of cardiac dysfunction.

Public Health Concern Over Xenotransplantation

More research is needed before a transplant of organ or tissue from an animal to human becomes a reality.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration highlighted the concerns surrounding xenotransplantation, including a potential cross-species infection of retroviruses. If that happens, the recipient of the animal organ might also infect the people around them and therefore, the general human population.

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