Is Xenotransplantation the solution to the shortage of organ donars?

A controversial issue in the discipline of medicine & surgery today is the topic of xenotransplantation. Most people have no idea what the term means however the process is a being used more and more to save lives and is leading to controversial decisions having to be made.

Have you have read articles about organ transplantation between different species? What about news clips with stories of medical grafts involving tissues/organs from pigs or cows being used on humans? Well, all these are instances of xenotransplantation.

In simple words, xenotransplantation refers to a medical procedure involving the  inter-species transplantation of biological-elements such as organs and tissues takes place.

There has been a lot of outcry from animal rights groups and religious leaders about the morality of the procedures. It has been argued by some that animals are exploited and it is very unethical to consider them as organ suppliers. Let us consider the pros and the cons of the procedure.

The Pros

According to statistics, about 6 in every 10 patients suffering from organ failure and degeneration will die while waiting for the required organs/tissues from a human donor. This may be due to some shortage in transplantable organs/tissues from donors or as a result of geographical proximity between the patient and the donor. It is clear enough that in such cases, lots of lives could be saved if xenotransplantation utilised.

Another advantage of the practice is that, unlike blood, which can be donated voluntarily by a living donor, organs such as kidneys, the liver, the heart or the eyes can be procured from a donor who is dead. This results in some sort of medical double standards wishing that  the number of living recipients is almost equal to that of dead donors so that the possibility of a transplant becomes a success. Other factors such as transportation, cost, time and storage are also relevant when determining the effectiveness of the procedure even if the organ is available. It is obvious that xenotransplantation can address all these issues.

The Cons

There are a some risks involved in xenotransplantation and one of them is immune rejection. There have been cases where the immune system of a patient rejects an organ transplant; you can only imagine what happens next! All animal species regardless of how closely related they are, have different and unique genetic codes.

Another major issue of concern about it is the presence of latent viruses/pathogens on the donor tissues/organs. These viruses get active once introduced in a human body. If the immune system of the host is unable to fight off the viruses, death results.


Depending on how you look at it, xenotransplantation does have a future in the field of medicine & surgery.

There has been ongoing research on the best way to resolve the issue of tissue/organ rejection. One notable development in genetic engineering, which is closely related to xenotransplantation, is the breeding of animals specifically pigs exhibiting transgenic characteristics.

The animals bred have genetic markers which closely resemble those of human beings. Further worries then arise resulting from the possibility of diseases and viruses jumping across the species gap mutating and decimating the human population.

Many believe if this was likely to happen it would have happened over the years as man has regularly had contact with other species.