U.K. Gives Pig-to-Human Transplants Guarded Support

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Science News Staff
1997-01-17 19:50
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LONDON--The British government yesterday gave an amber light to the quest to transplant organs from pigs to humans as a means of countering the chronic shortage of human organs.

The government acted in response to an advisory report it had commissioned last year on animal-organ transplants. The panel, chaired by Ian Kennedy, a professor of law and medicine at King's College, London, concluded that such transplants are ethically acceptable. The government concurred, but announced that clinical trials in humans will not proceed until after substantially more research shows that these procedures can benefit patients and be carried out safely. Health Minister Stephen Dorrell said in a press release that there are many major unanswered questions. "It is essential that the risks associated with xenotransplantation are better understood before the technique is used on human patients," he said.

In the meantime, the health ministry plans to establish a new national body, the U.K. Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority, to enforce the current ban on xenotransplantation and to develop a full legal framework covering all the new issues posed by cross-species transplants. Lord Habgood, a biologist and former Archbishop of York, will chair the new body.

Other experts welcomed the report and the government's response. "The government has made the right decisions," says Albert Weale of the University of Essex, who headed the independent Nuffield Council on Bioethics's panel on xenotransplantation. The Nuffield panel last year produced its own report giving cautious approval for such research. "We believe the field can move ahead when the right controls are in place," Weale says.

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