This article is part of Can Pigs Help End the Acute Shortage of Donor Organs?.
While the pig might at first seem an odd source of organ donation, these domesticated animals are the most favorable xenotransplant option for a host of reasons.
Apes and monkeys are closest to humans anatomically and physiologically, but their organs carry a higher risk of virus transmission. Beyond this, a majority of primate species are threatened by diminished numbers or even extinction. Pigs, by contrast, are plentiful, have large litters, grow quickly, are comparatively easy to genetically modify, and are less likely to transmit infections. Moreover, they are already used broadly in the medical field as sources for heart valves, insulin, blood thinners, and skin grafts.
“Human donors are preferable, but our research points to the potential of an unlimited, sustainable supply of organs,” says Dr. Montgomery. “The goal is that in the future, no one should die waiting for a lifesaving organ.”