Pig hearts keep baboons' blood pumping

Pig hearts keep baboons' blood pumping

A small troop of baboons with more heart than any other animal could provide answers to the problem of organ donation, new research shows.

Five baboons were able to survive for more than two years with an extra heart connected to their circulatory system -- donated by a pig -- with the help of immune-suppressing drug therapy.

New research from the National Institutes of Health in the US, published in Nature Communications this week, documented how the therapy allowed the longest-to-date survival of a heart transplant between the two species.

The process, known as xenotransplantation, has potential to help organ shortages among human patients, the researchers say.

The main problem with xenotransplantation is the strong immune reaction of the recipient, leading to organ rejection and failure.

Paper author Muhammad Mohiuddin and colleagues had previously established a line of donor pigs with genetic modifications allowing for a degree of immune tolerance in the baboons -- close relatives of humans.

The baboons' treatment was fine-tuned by the researchers based on antibodies and drugs to control their immune system.

The animals survived for as long as they were kept on their immune-suppressing therapy, which lasted up to 945 days, with a median of 298 days.

Future testing will see a baboon's heart replaced entirely with that of a genetically modified pig.