Animal biotechnology needs to be addressed because even though different species look very different from us, we are made up of the same basic units of living; cells and DNA. This means that we can use DNA from other species to cure or assist in the treatment of human diseases. In ancient times the only animal biotechnology that we have evidence of was domestication. We domesticated animals in order to control which animals mated with each other. Through domestication we can choose to breed a larger male with a highly successful reproductive female in order to increase heterosis. Obviously, back then we did not know why breeding good cattle with good cattle led to better cattle but now we understand this optimal breeding pattern is a type of animal biotechnology that we still use to this day. However, now we have discovered that animals are not only good for consumption, but also there is a high chance that they could save our lives.
Xenotransplantation is “any procedure that involves the transplantation, implantation or infusion into a human recipient of either live cells, tissues, or organs from a nonhuman animal source, or human body fluids, cells, tissues or organs…” (Citation 4). The developed and researched aspect of this biotechnology is new, and very different from the way that we currently solve the issue of failing human organs, but there is a long history of experimentation in this field. In the early 1900s, scientists attempted to replace failing human organs with properly functioning animal organs. For obvious reasons all of these experiments failed, and scientists stopped performing them until they could figure out why they were failing. The discovery of how blood vessels could be reconnected in transplanted organs by Alexis Carrel in 1912 started recreations of the transplant experiments, but all of these failed also. The next discovery that led to the next surge of experimentation with transplants was the fact that the immune system reacts poorly with the transplant and causes it to fail after a few days or hours.
This discovery was made by Peter Medawar in 1960 and this led to his other discovery that it is possible to introduce tolerance to transplanted tissue. Tolerance can be introduced to transplanted tissues through a drug called6-MP which causes a delay in rejection of tissues and organs in same species transplants. After this discovery the first successful human to human transplant took place. Because we are primates, DNA from chimpanzees is most similar to ours. So, scientists took this fact into account when deciding which organs to transplant next. Many experiments with chimpanzees’ hearts, kidneys, and other organs took place and most were relatively successful, and patients survived for close to a year in some cases. However, in 1997 a worldwide ban on all xenotransplantation was put into effect. There were many concerns about the health risks and dangerous zoological viruses that could be introduced through these transplants. As research of the safety of these transplants went on, it was realized that there is no real risk for human recipients of pig tissues. From 2000-2011 the ban was lifted in multiple countries, so studies continued. As time went on and more clinical trials were performed new discoveries kept occurring. For example, pig cells were found to assist in the treatment of type 1 diabetes and as recently as 2017 there is research to support that transplanting pig cells into the human brain can help treat Parkinson’s disease. The issue of failing human organs seems like a natural process that can’t be solved, but with today’s new and revolutionary biotechnology we can increase our life spans and help people who 100 years ago would have had no hope.
Xenotransplants are very new in the area of biotechnology even though scientists have been performing them for over 100 years. The ethics behind xenotransplants is often disputed and that is why in 1997 the world placed a ban on them. In this paragraph I will try to understand both sides of the ethics argument around xenotransplantation and hopefully explain that the benefits outweigh the moral or ethical concerns. With human to human transplants the process includes the donor agreeing to the donation whether that be after they pass, or before if the organ is unnecessary in their body-for example, kidney transplants. In xenotransplantation there is no consent form for animals. Animal rights advocates argue against this biotechnology because “sacrificing animals for the benefit of human lives is not morally acceptable…” (Citation 5). In order to regulate xenotransplants many experiments must be run in regard to factors that may cause organ rejection, and of course, animals are used as test subjects. So, animal rights advocates argue that we are using animals immorally in both the actual procedure of xenotransplantation and in the use of animals as test subjects.
Another ethical issue with xenotransplantation is the introduction of zoological diseases into society. One of the main reasons that xenotransplants are not currently working is because of the large risk of infection for a species to species transplant. This would not be an issue if we already had all of the vaccines and cures ready to defend against these diseases, but we don’t. The risk of an organ recipient from this procedure transferring an animal virus to the human population is very great and could cause an outbreak of the virus to which we would have no response. Also, many people believe that xenotransplants were only created by biotech companies to make money. These people think that biotech companies are only here to make money and through the invention of xenotransplants they have completely disregarded animal and human welfare as a whole. The long-term effects of xenotransplantation are still not known and between the risk of the spread of incurable disease and the neglect of these animals’ lives, many have deemed biotech companies to only be in It for the money. These are three major issues in the regulation of this biotechnology and will have to be solved before any successful transplants can be made, and before we introduce xenotransplantation as a common medical practice.
On one hand we know that the moral issue of using animals to better our quality of life is wrong, yet only 6% of the U.S. population is vegan (Citation 6). I bring this point up because if we are so set on respecting animals’ lives for something more than an organ, then why can’t we see animals as more than just pieces of meat. With today’s array of protein-high diets the amount of meat consumed by an average American per year has risen to 270 pounds (Citation 7). All of the waste that consumers create by eating animals, such as carbon dioxide emissions and the disregard for other parts of animals that are not for consumption is despicable. As a population we are willing to aimlessly slaughter animals every day for food that we don’t really need, but we are arguing over the moral issue of using animals to save lives? Saving lives and saving yourself from a meat craving are two completely different things and, in my mind, the ladder is much more important. People across the world are on very long waiting lists to receive new organs, and most never make it off the list. It is estimated that, “on average 20 people a day die waiting for an organ transplant” (Citation 3). The organ shortage issue has been one that scientists have faced since the technology to perform human to human organ transplants was created, and now we may have a solution. But, now we may finally have a solution. The other ethical issue is one that can only be solved by scientists willing to work for the cause. The risk of these diseases wiping out populations of people is very high and very real but as we know from biotechnology there is always a solution for the impossible.
If we spent more time and money researching zoological diseases, the vaccines needed to prevent them in humans and the cures needed to wipe them out if they occur, then maybe the regulation of xenotransplantation wouldn’t seem so far away. The argument that biotech companies are only creating new ways to improve our lives and make them last longer, could not be refuted more. Biotech companies are finding new ways of curing diseases that we never thought would be cured. Biotech companies are finding solutions to the problems that even our advanced medical technologies cannot solve. With the creation of revolutionary solutions comes many issues, but the argument that biotech was only created for the money is ridiculous. Biotechnologists are a new wave of scientists that are attempting the things and addressing the problems that everyone else is too scared to do. If we can solve major issues like human organ failure through the life of one animal, what’s stopping us?
Although there has not been a successful xenotransplantation performed yet, if we allow more experimentation and testing to be done then the likelihood of a successful species to species transplant is much higher and closer than we think. The regulation process may take years but if this biotechnology is effective then we can save so many human lives and solve an issue that no one thought was possible.