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Pigs’ hearts, future organ transplant wave?

Monday, July 28, 2014
Science and Society

Organ transplantation is an established medical practice and many countries have legislation regarding the donation process to allow the legal harvesting of organs. Heart and kidney transplants have become fairly routine and the boundaries are being extended with respect to other organs as new techniques evolve. 

It is estimated that on a yearly basis some 5,000 cardiac transplants are performed globally. The number of candidates for transplantation, however, ranges from 50,000 to 800,000. This wide variety is reflective of the variation in medical facilities in the various countries of the world and the subsequent difficulty in obtaining exact figures from those with less than satisfactory or underdeveloped health systems. 

Even if the lower figure is used, it is quite clear that there is a huge gap between the demand for hearts for transplantation and the availability of the organs. Methods other than allotransplatation (organ transplantation between members of the same species) have thus been explored. Mechanical or artificial hearts have been developed but they are still viewed as a bridging procedure and will remain this way until the tremendous bioengineering challenges are solved.