- An American company has applied to inject
pig cells into the brains of human sufferers of Parkinson's disease in
- The treatment is intended to halt or
potentially reverse brain damage in sufferers. It is already undergoing
trials in the United States where some patients have seen benefits.
- But scientists, campaigners and organisations
- most notably the Council of Europe - have requested a moratorium on all
cross-species transplants until key questions have been answered over its
- Virus fear
- There are fears that pig-to-human transplants
could introduce new "silent" viruses, or retroviruses, into the
human population. These reside in the pig's DNA and cannot be screened
out using normal methods.
- HIV is an example of a retrovirus and
was derived from chimpanzees. There are also significant ethical questions
over the transplant treatment.
- A report in Monday's Guardian newspaper
identified the company applying for UK transplant trials as the Genzyme
Corporation. Genzyme has not confirmed the report.
- Secrecy row
- The UK Department of Health have refused
to name the firm, despite a written Commons question from Liberal Democrat
MP Norman Baker. Many MPs now want to know why the matter is being treated
with such secrecy.
- The company that applied for permission
is understood to have developed a procedure in which cells from pigs' foetuses
can be transplanted to produce a vital chemical, dopamine, that Parkinson's
sufferers' brains have stopped making.
- The American trials have recorded some
early successes and were approved by the US Food and Drug administration.
- "Humanised" organs
- The application to replicate the US cell
transplant trials in the UK is also likely to throw the spotlight on other
procedures, including genetically-modifying pigs to give them "humanized"
organs that can then be "harvested" for transplant into human
- To date, researchers have not been able
to successfully produce "transgenic" organs, but some scientists
see them as an eventual solution to chronic shortages in transplantable