Saturday, May 14, 2022

Xenotransplantation and pork chops

 There's been recent news about xenotransplantation, with attempts made to transplant kidneys or hearts from genetically modified pigs into humans.  Those haven't been successful yet, but the organs weren't immediately rejected, because the special pigs involved don't have the alpha-gal sugar molecule on their cells that non-human mammals have and that immediately alerts human immune systems to reject the organ.

But while pig organs aren't ready for transplant yet, it turns out that there are some people who are allergic to the alpha-gal sugar, and hence to meat. But they can eat the meat of these almost-transplant-ready pigs.

The Atlantic has the story:

A Tick Bite Made Them Allergic to Meat. And an organ-transplant company has an unexpected solution. By Sarah Zhang

"It just so happens that the same molecule—a sugar called alpha-gal—that causes the human immune system to reject pig organs also causes the tick-associated red-meat allergy, known as alpha-gal syndrome. To make a pig whose organs could be harvested for transplant, Revivicor first had to make an alpha-gal-free pig. And when it did, the company realized that transplant surgeons weren’t the only ones interested.

"Since last fall, Revivicor has been quietly sending refrigerated packages of alpha-gal-free bacon, ham, ground pork, chops, and pork shoulders to people in the alpha-gal-syndrome community. These packages were free, but Revivicor has told the FDA it is exploring a mail-order business. And so a biomedical company has found itself an accidental purveyor of specialty pork products."


In the background of this story is Revivicor part of the public benefit corporation United Therapeutics, founded by the remarkable Martine Rothblatt.


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