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Xenotransplantation timeline

A timeline featuring some of the key events in xenotransplantation from the early 1900s until 2011.

1902

Reconnecting blood vessels for organ transplants
Alexis Carrel at the Rockefeller Institute in New York describes how blood vessels could be reconnected in transplanted organs. Carrel receives the Nobel prize for this work in 1912.
www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1912/carrel.html

1902–1923

First attempts at organ xenotransplants
Transplants with pig, goat, sheep and monkey organs are attempted, but all fail, with patients surviving only hours or days after transplantation. No further animal to human transplants are tried again until 1963, after immunosuppressing drugs are developed.

1944

Immune system causes transplant rejection
Peter Medawar from the University of London shows that transplants are failing because of an immune system reaction.

1954

First successful human to human transplant
First successful human to human transplant of a kidney between identical twin brothers.

1960

Acquired immune tolerance
Peter Medawar receives the Nobel prize for discovering that it is possible to induce tolerance to transplanted tissue.
www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1960/medawar.html

1960

First immunosuppressive drugs identified
A number of researchers independently demonstrate that a drug called 6-MP can delay rejection of tissue and organs transplanted between the same species.

1963

Baboon kidney transplant
Baboon kidneys are transplanted into six patients in Denver by Dr Thomas Starzl. The patients survive between 19–98 days.

1963

Chimpanzee kidney transplant
Chimpanzee kidneys are transplanted into 13 patients by Keith Reemtsma at Tulane University in Louisiana. One patient survives for 9 months.

1964

Chimpanzee heart transplant
The first animal to human heart transplant is carried out by James Hardy at the University of Mississippi, but it fails rapidly.

1969–1974

Chimpanzee liver transplant
The world’s first chimpanzee liver transplants are done on three children between 1969 and 1974 but none of them survives for more than 2 weeks.

1977

Baboon and chimpanzee hearts used as back-up pumps
Christiaan Barnard uses baboon and chimpanzee hearts as temporary back-up pumps in two patients with heart failure after surgery, but the treatment does not help the patients survive.

1978

Pig skin used to treat burns patients
Burns patients treated with pig skin grafts have faster healing times and less pain than patients treated with standard paraffin gauze dressings.

1984

Baboon heart transplant in baby
Baby Fae, an infant born with a severe heart defect, receives a baboon heart, but only lives for 20 days after the transplant.

1992–1993

Baboon to human liver transplant
Dr Thomas Starzl transplants baboon livers into two patients. One of the patients survives for 70 days with little evidence of rejection.

1995

Transgenic pigs prevent transplant rejection
Dr David White in Cambridge, UK, creates transgenic pigs that have a human protein to prevent their tissues and organs being rejected by the immune system. Several other labs investigate similar strategies.

1995

Baboon to human bone marrow transplant for HIV
Jeff Getty, a patient infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), receives baboon bone marrow to treat his illness. Baboon bone marrow has a natural resistance to HIV. His symptoms improve for a while, but the baboon cells die after about 2 weeks.

1996

Pig cell transplant for type 1 diabetes
Living Cell Technologies (formerly Diacrin) transplants encapsulated pig islet cells into type 1 diabetic patient Michael Helyer. The treatment is successful and allows Michael to reduce insulin injections.

Get information sheet: Trialling pig cell transplants

1997

Pig nerve cell transplants for Parkinson’s disease
Foetal pig nerve cells are used to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease with some success.

Get video clip: Xenotransplantation saves Jim

1997

Pig liver used to keep patient alive
Robert Pennington, a 20-year-old with liver failure, is kept alive by passing his blood through transgenic pig livers, which had been genetically modified so they would not be recognised by the recipient’s immune system. This procedure is carried out for 7 hours over 3 days until a suitable liver becomes available. This procedure is done a few weeks before a worldwide ban on xenotransplants.

Get video clip: Xenotransplantation saves Robert

1997

Worldwide ban on all xenotransplantation
Concerns about the risk of infecting human recipients with animal endogenous retroviruses lead to a worldwide ban or moratorium on animal to human transplants. Pig endogenous retrovirus (PERV) is of particular concern.

Get video clip: Pig cell transplants and PERV

1997–1999

Risk of infectious disease assessed
Several groups publish findings showing no evidence of PERV infection in human recipients of pig tissues.

2000–2011

Ban on xenotransplantation is lifted in some countries
The ban on xenotransplantation is lifted in some countries and applications for trials with xenotransplants are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

2007–2011   

Clinical trials of pig cell transplants continue
Russia, New Zealand and Argentina all approve clinical trials of pig cells for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Get focus story: Pig cell transplants

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