This Little Piggy Organ Going to Market?

LONDON--Claims in the British media this week that the government is set to give the green light to transplantation of organs from genetically modified pigs into human patients have been dismissed as "pure speculation" by a Department of Health official. The official says a decision will be announced in 1997.

The London Times and the BBC reported yesterday that the government had accepted an inquiry's recommendation that it was safe to press ahead with transplantations. They reported that the inquiry, chaired by Ian Kennedy, a professor of medical law and ethics at King's College, London, raised the concern that pig organs could transmit to humans potentially dangerous animal viruses. Nevertheless, the commission is said to have concluded that neither safety nor ethical issues block the way for pig-to-human transplants. The transgenic pigs make a regulatory protein that helps prevent the immune system from attacking a transplanted organ.

A Department of Health official neither confirmed nor denied that the government planned to approve pig-to-human transplants. "The report will be published in the new year, and we shall have to wait until then," he says. A spokesperson for Imutran, the Cambridge, U.K.-based company which has developed the transgenic pigs, says that the firm has no information about the report's contents. "The speculation is news to us," she says.