Scientists now believe the transplantation of organs from animals to humans could soon be a reality.
Speaking at the BA Festival of Science in Dublin, Dr Anthony Warrens, discussed how xenotransplantation, the process of transplanting organs from one species into another, could soon be a reality, easing the current shortage of organs for transplantation.
Dr Anthony Warrens, from Imperial College London and Hammersmith Hospital, says: "Although the idea of xenotransplantation is far from new, it is only in recent years that many of the potential immunological problems, such as transplant rejection, have been solved, meaning the process of transplanting organs from one species into another, could soon be a reality."
"With the increasing shortage of donors for organ transplants, the use of animal organs may be the only hope for many suffering from problems such as kidney, heart or lung failure."
Despite the progress made in this field there are still a number of problems associated with transplanting animal organs into humans. The dangers of animal viruses crossing over and infecting humans are still a cause for concern, as researchers have been unable to create an animal model to test the likelihood and extent of any cross over.
In addition, unknown animal pathogens could prove a potential problem.
While scientists can create treatment and transplant rejection prevention strategies for known human pathogens, they are unable to do so for animal pathogens, whose effects on humans may not be fully known.
Dr Warrens adds: "Despite the risks, xenotransplantation may be the best hope we have for dealing with the current transplant shortage. Currently there are around 6000 on the kidney transplant waiting list, whose condition will only get worse without a transplant. Although we can't say there is absolutely no danger of cross infection, I believe that in the future we will be able to deal with many of the problems, reducing any potential risk."