Rights: The University of Waikato Published 27 November 2007 Download

Filtering human blood through a pig's liver — science fiction, or modern medicine?


Sara Loughnane: This guy's name is Robert Pennington and in 1997 his liver failed. His liver completely failed, which means his blood was being poisoned by things that were already in his body. So it’s a big deal. If your liver fails, you are going to die. So his doctors put him on the waiting list for a liver transplant, but there wasn't one available. And so they decided, with his permission, to try this new thing.

So what doctors did is they got a whole lot of these … This is a liver from a sheep. They got livers from pigs, they got a few of them, and what they did was they put a big needle into a big vein, a massive vein in his leg, drained his blood out of him, ran it through the pig livers so that the pig liver was doing the job that his liver would normally do, and then pumped that blood back into his body. So the pig liver had purified his blood for him, had done the job that his liver should have been doing but wasn't. So they were using the pig livers outside of his body to do that. That’s one type of xenotransplant, when the organ that they are using actually stays outside of the body of the person that’s having the xenotransplant.