Babies born with defects can be saved by pigs!

Publish Date
Tuesday, 18 April 2017, 11:21AM

Pigs don't exactly have the best reputation, but it turns out they could save a lot of lives! The world's first pig organ transplant is set to be used to treat newborn babies with birth defects, such as being born without a section of their gullet, or oesophagus - the tube linking the mouth and stomach.

A British farm has already supplied organs from pigs in preparation for the ground-breaking surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Currently, surgeons' only option in severe cases is to move a child's stomach up into their chest to connect it to the gullet, which risks complications and cancer. A pig's gullet can be used as a 'scaffold', using babies' own stem cells to prevent their body rejecting it.

The life-saving treatment will be used next year by doctors on about ten children born with severe oesophageal atresia.

The medical team at Great Ormond Street also plans to develop the £100,000 treatment for adults suffering from oesophageal cancer - a far more common and often fatal condition.

Dr Peter Steer, the hospital's chief executive, said: "This new oesophageal transplant procedure has the potential to transform the lives of children with extremely complex health conditions. Our researchers are now working closely with hospitals across London to develop, and make available, this pioneering procedure."

The first children for next year's trial could be identified in the coming months, with gullets of varying sizes taken from pigs at a British farm in readiness.

The tissue engineering takes about eight weeks and doctors hope to perform transplants when children are two to three months old. Professor Paolo De Coppi, a consultant paediatric surgeon at Great Ormond Street, said: "This is completely new. Pigs have been used for heart valve replacement for many years, but nobody has received an organ developed from an "animal scaffold" this way."

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.