• XENOTRANSPLANTATION

    15th September 2016

    Adjournment speech.

    Xenotransplantation.

    XENOTRANSPLANTATION

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON (16:23): Xenotransplantation is the transplantation of living cells, tissues or organs from one species to another. There are currently xenotransplantation experiments occurring at Prince Alfred Hospital using baboons from the Wallacia breeding facility. A recent media exposédescribed Frankenstein-like operations that transplanted organs from pigs into baboons. Millions of dollars of taxpayer‑funded research grants is used, but the hospitals are not required to provide details to the public about the nature of these experiments. Questions to the Minister have failed to yield answers.

    Human-to-human organ transplants are now routinely performed on patients with organ failure. Australia is a world leader for successful organ transplant outcomes but is twenty-second on the international list for organ donations. Public awareness is, however, improving. In 2015, 69 per cent of Australians indicated a willingness to become organ and tissue donors and there was a record 435 organ donations to 1,241 patients. The Federal and State governments have implemented a national reform program to increase donation rates. The program will implement a world’s best practice approach to organ and tissue donation for transplantation. Its aim is to increase clinical capacity and capability, and to increase community engagement and awareness in relation to organ donation.

    Unfortunately, the current rate of organ donation does not meet demand, and this has been used to justify xenotransplantation with animals. Xenotransplantation occurs predominantly with primates and pigs and is a death sentence for those animals. If xenotransplantation ever becomes a surgical practice there will be mass wastage preceded by enormous suffering for the animals. Sentient beings will be reduced to nothing more than spare parts and tens of thousands of animals will die miserable deaths in laboratory conditions.

    Xenotransplantation seriously impacts animal wellbeing. From the moment the animal is born it is unable to express natural behaviours and will suffer frustration, deprivation and stress. The sterile conditions in which the genetically engineered animals to be used for transplants will be kept poses a significant stress factor. To reduce the risk of exposure to disease sows have their pregnant wombs removed and the piglets are placed into a sterile environment. The piglet is unable to suckle from its mother, it is medicated and reared on artificial foods containing no animal products.

    Aside from the animal suffering involved in xenotransplantation, there are serious human health risks with this procedure. Possible problems with transplantation of whole organs from animals to humans include viral diseases transferred from animals, rejection of the organs by the patient’s immune system, and differences in structure and biochemistry between human and animal organs. Pigs contain endogenous retroviruses that are passed on to offspring in the DNA of normal chromosomes, and therefore cannot be eliminated. Viral sequences in host DNA can be activated to produce infectious viruses in mice, cats and gibbons that are closely related to leukaemia viruses and are a second cousin to HIV.

    The following are examples of diseases transferred from primates to humans: monkey pox is a virus originating in African monkeys causing a 10 per cent fatality rate in humans; the HIV-AIDS virus is thought to have come from the primate simian immunodeficiency virus [SIV]; seven laboratory workers died following exposure to Marburg virus through African green monkey kidneys; Ebola virus recently killed thousands of people in central Africa and has been linked to monkeys; and the herpes B virus is a common infection of macaque monkeys, but in humans it can develop into a fatal neurological disease. Given the terrible animal suffering and massive wastage of sentient beings, the risks to human health and the expense involved in experimentation, would it not make more sense to save money and encourage a more compassionate outcome for all beings by focusing our efforts and resources on community education programs to promote organ donations? These research materials were sourced by Dr Suzanne Pope.

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