The shortage of suitable organs for transplants is now severe, to the extent that the invention in the late sixties by the science-fiction writer Larry Niven of organlegging — murdering people to resell their body parts — no longer seems so fanciful. One solution that is being considered is the use of organs from other species, and it was reported at the end of 1996 that doctors in India had successfully transplanted the heart of a pig into a person. Two reports on the technique the same year (one in the US, one in Britain) agreed that though such transplants were acceptable on ethical grounds, there was legitimate concern over the risk that infectious diseases might be introduced with the transplanted organs (see xenozoonosis). Pathogens such as retroviruses that might be benign or even undetectable in the host animal could become virulent when moved to the new environment of the human body. The term xenotransplantation is a compound of transplantation with the Greek prefix xeno-, ‘foreigner; stranger’, which also turns up in xenophobia and in some specialised medical terms like xenobiotic. An instance of the technique is a xenotransplant, a word which doubles as the verb; a person undertaking the process is rarely called a xenotransplanter.
Page created 4 Jan. 1997
Last updated 28 Mar. 1998
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