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What Is Xenotransplantation and Why Is It in The Spotlight? | Affinity Health

Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality healthcare, discusses the controversial issue of xenotransplantation and why it’s trending this year.


David Bennett, 57, became the world’s first patient to receive a genetically engineered pig heart last month. He was extremely ill at the time, with end-stage heart failure and on a heart-lung bypass machine. His prospects were bleak. He was neither a ventricular assist device nor a heart transplant candidate.


Unfortunately, these life-threatening circumstances are common. They tend to be most evident at advanced heart failure.


Cardiovascular disease, also known as heart disease, is the leading cause of death. Stats SA has reported that they cause 43 percent of all adult deaths in South Africa. Each year, many individuals with advanced heart failure die due to a scarcity of donor hearts. This would not be the case had they received life-saving heart transplants. Doctors may bypass this critical barrier. This is possible if they can replace sick human organs with animal organs.

Learn More: The Different Types of Cardiovascular Disease

What Exactly Is Xenotransplantation?

Xenotransplantation is the medical term for the transplantation of animal organs into humans. It is a centuries-old concept that researchers have renewed several times throughout history.


“Reflecting on Bennet’s transplant, several questions arise. Will a genetically-engineered pig heart work in a human body? Is it identical to a human heart in every manner? Has a pig heart outperformed expectations of function and body tolerance?” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.


“However, only time will tell if the heart performs all the tasks of the human heart, or for how long.”

What Are the Pros and Cons of Xenotransplantation?

As with so many medical advancements, xenotransplantation has pros and cons.

The Pros:
  • Xenotransplantation may be the answer for patients waiting for a heart transplant.
  • Xenotransplantation may decrease the illegal trade of human organs.
  • Xenotransplantation may present the potential to open up new avenues for disease treatment.
The Cons:
  • Many people oppose xenotransplantation because of religious beliefs and animal cruelty concerns.
  • Xenotransplantation raises the risk of disease transmission.
  • Animals tend to have shorter life spans than humans. This means that there is still a risk of the organs wearing out or dying early.
  • The human body might reject the organ. This would be because it recognises tissue and organ from these animals as not natural.

“Xenotransplantation has undoubtedly raised a slew of interesting questions. There have only been a few attempts at human xenografting over the years. So, we have yet to see if xenotransplantation is successful in the long term. We need far more information about xenotransplantation. We need to fully assess its merits and downsides,” concludes Hewlett.

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading provider of health insurance, offering you a range of options at affordable rates including access to the widest national provider network. We understand the importance of having medical insurance that meets your needs, your budget, and your lifestyle.

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