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  • Rights: The University of Waikato
    Published 27 November 2007 Referencing Hub media

    Injecting a human brain with pig cells — an example of science fiction, or modern medicine?


    Sara Loughnane: There is another type of xenotransplant, where that organ actually goes inside the body. An example of this is a guy who is called Jim Finn, and Jim Finn also in 1997, had a xenotransplant. He had Parkinson’s Disease. Do any of you know what Parkinson’s Disease is? What part of your body it affects?

    Student: Your hands, your hands shake.

    Sara Loughnane: The hand shaking is a really common symptom. It’s actually affecting your brain, and your brain stops being able to control your muscles very well. So this guy, Jim Finn, had Parkinson’s disease so badly that he couldn't walk any more. He couldn't even get out of a chair by himself any more. He couldn't talk any more, let alone use his hands. So he had very, very severe Parkinson's disease.

    This is a [sheep’s] brain.

    What he did was, they got for him parts of a pig’s brain, and they injected those parts of the brain into his brain, into the bits that were damaged. And within 6 months of his treatment, he could walk again. So it had a really huge impact on his disease, a really huge impact.

    After both of these men were treated in 1997, about three weeks later they stopped xenotransplantation being allowed. They said No, you can't do it any more. And the main reason for this is that they thought there would be quite a big risk of viruses, of humans starting to suffer from pig viruses. So they stopped it. So only six people in the world have had a xenotransplant, all in 1997.

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