Transplants of animal organs into people could take place within a few years because of the acute shortages of donated human organs, a leading scientist said on Friday.
"It is only in recent years that many of the potential immunological problems, such as transplant rejection, have been solved, meaning the process of transplanting organs from one species into another could soon be a reality," said Dr Anthony Warrens, of Imperial College London.
Warrens told the British Association for the Advancement of Science conference in the Irish capital that for every donated human organ that became available there were five people who needed it.
Xenotransplantation, the use of organs, tissues or cells from a different species, is thought to be the best solution.
Pigs are a likely source of transplant organs because they are about the same size as humans and have a similar physiology. Scientists are working to produce genetically engineered pigs whose tissues would not provoke an immune response in humans, reports Reuters.
According to Telegraph, despite the progress made in this field, there are still problems associated with transplanting animal organs into humans.
The dangers of animal viruses’ crossing over and infecting humans are still a cause for concern.
In addition, unknown animal pathogens could prove a potential problem.
While scientists can create treatment and transplant rejection prevention strategies for known human pathogens, they are unable to do so for animal pathogens.
Dr Warrens said: "Despite the risks, xenotransplantation may be the best hope we have for dealing with the current transplant shortage. Currently there are around 6,000 on the kidney transplant waiting list, whose condition will only get worse without a transplant.
"Although we can't say there is absolutely no danger of cross infection, I believe that in the future we will be able to deal with many of the problems."