BERN--Swiss researchers may soon face new federal regulations and perhaps an outright ban on xenotransplantation--the grafting of animal organs, tissues, or cells into humans. By a margin of eight to one, Swiss voters yesterday approved a national referendum giving their Parliament the authority to enact laws regulating human organ transplants. Until now, the rules were set mainly by Swiss cantonal (state) authorities.
The Green Party and Swiss animal-rights groups had opposed the initiative, preferring an outright ban on clinical trials using xenotransplants. Swiss officials say Parliament still has the option of passing such a prohibition, but Ruth Dreifus, the Swiss federal minister who oversees science policy--and is also Switzerland's president--said Monday that Swiss leaders will propose to Parliament that xenotransplants be forbidden except in specific cases.
So far, xenotransplantation has been limited mainly to animal research, but some European scientists and biomedical companies want to conduct clinical trials with humans. However, other experts fear that animal viruses migrating from animal tissue to human recipients might cause a pandemic. Most European governments do not have laws regulating xenotransplantation research, although the United Kingdom has agreed to allow limited clinical trials under strict supervision.