Babies With Birth Defects To Undergo First-Ever Pig Organ Transplant, British Doctors To Facilitate Treatment

By Amanda Moore, Parent Herald April 18, 04:00 am
Dr. Paolo De Coppi will head the revolutionary stem cell transplant using pig organs for babies with esophageal atresia in London in 2018.
(Photo : Carsten Koall/Getty Images)

A group of 10 babies with a birth defect will undergo a first-ever pig organ transplant under the hands of British doctors. These babies have esophageal atresia, a life-threatening condition, and the transplant will hopefully save their lives.

Doctors at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital initiated the preparation and planning for the transplants. They already tapped a local British farm to supply the pig organs and targeted the operation of the babies to begin next year, Independent reported.

Doctors plan to modify the pig organs with stem cells from the babies and tissue engineering will take eight weeks, as per Daily Mail. These will then be used to fix the babies' gullet that connects the mouth to the esophagus.

Babies suffering from esophagus atresia cannot swallow or ingest food properly. They also risk choking from the birth defect. Left untreated, babies with this rare condition also risk cancer development.

Doctors can detect esophagus atresia in babies as early as 20 weeks in the womb. It affects 250 U.K. babies and one in 4,608 babies in the United States, as per CDC.

Current treatment for esophagus atresia requires invasive surgery where doctors sew the gullet or move the stomach higher on the chest. The latter procedure also brings risk as babies can develop pneumonia in the long run because of the unusual placement.

"Pigs have been used for heart valve replacement for many years, but nobody has received an organ developed from an 'animal scaffold' this way," surgeon Paolo De Coppi, who will head the transplant team said. De Coppi also said the transplant should significantly lower the long-term complications of the birth defect.

De Coppi developed the transplant procedure following an operation of Ciaran Finn-Lynch, 11, in 2010. De Coppi corrected the boy's windpipe via the stem cell transplant and he's now a healthy and normal teenager with little medical issues.

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