Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham this week announced positive results in a series of investigations to gain approval for organ transplants from animals to humans.

This time, surgeons in Alabama transplanted genetically modified pig kidneys into a brain-dead man, in what was considered a methodical trial for a practice they hope to test on living patients possibly later this year, AP News reported.

Scientists justified the controversial experiment because of an alleged “shortage of organs” available.

Dr. Jayme Locke, who led the study at the University of Alabama, said, “The organ shortage is, in fact, an absolute crisis, and we’ve never had a real solution to it.”

The recent experiment is part of the scientific race to establish the knowledge needed to approve mass animal-to-human transplants.

Similar studies have already been carried out at other universities in recent months. Such is the case at New York University, where a group of scientists succeeded last October in temporarily connecting a pig kidney to the blood vessels outside the body of a deceased recipient to see them function.

Another experiment was conducted in early January of this year when surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center gave a dying man a heart from a genetically modified pig that is so far keeping him alive, USA Today reported.

Scientists say that pigs have been the animal where most studies have been concentrated since their organs are considered the most similar to humans.

However, significant obstacles cause the human body to reject these organs, preventing large-scale transplantation so far. 

It should be noted that it was only possible to perform some transplants of this type by genetically modifying pig organs to achieve greater compatibility with the human body artificially.

Given the still very early stage of research, the risk of transplant failure is exceptionally high. For this reason, with the help of a family who donated the body of a loved one to science, Locke mimicked the way human organ transplants are performed, from removing the kidneys from the pig “donor” to sewing them into the abdomen of the deceased.

For a little more than three days, until the man’s body was removed from life support, the pair of pig kidneys survived with no signs of immediate rejection, his team reported Thursday in the American Journal of Transplantation.

Locke said he was pleased with the results and noted that the use of brain-dead people is a much-needed model for further research.

Animal-to-human transplants, the so-called xenotransplantation, have been tried unsuccessfully for decades because people’s immune systems instantly attack foreign tissue. But scientists now have new techniques to edit pigs’ genes to make their organs more human-like, raising scientists’ expectations that they will continue to do such tests.

The issue has sparked much controversy. From animal rights activists who oppose the use of pig organs to many doctors and specialists who point out that mixing animals with humans breaks all the rules of scientific ethics.

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