Xenotransplantation has a long history in the scientific community. Animal tissue has been used as a substitute for human tissue as far back as 1682. The first time xenotransplantation was applied was when a portion of dog skull was implanted into the skull of a Russian nobleman to repair damage. The graft was removed after a threat of excommunication was made by the Russian Church. The graft had been successful up until the removal.

Several attempts at xenotransplantation were made over the next two centuries. Many of the attempts failed due to incompatibility of the tissues. However, a breakthrough was made in 1963 when Keith Reemtsma transplanted chimpanzee kidneys into thirteen patients. One patient survived for nearly nine months after receiving the organ, before dying from an electrolyte imbalance. When an autopsy was performed, the organs were found to have no signs of rejection. This "success" spawned several other attempts at the transplantation of animal tissue, however many recipients died due to infections resulting from the high levels of immunosuppression needed.

The field of cardiac xenotransplantation came into the scientific community in 1964, when Hardy and colleagues from the University of Mississippi performed the first heart transplant ever. They used a chimpanzee as the donor. Since the early 1960s, a total of eight cardiac xenotransplants have been attempted. Of these eight, five donors were non-human primates, two were from pigs, and one from a sheep. The longest survivor of a cardiac xenotransplant, and most likely the most memorable, was that of "Baby Fae", done in 1984. She was a newborn infant who received a baboon heart. The transplant was an ABO-blood group mismatch, and the graft functioned for only twenty days.


Recently, more attempts have been made at heart xenotransplantation. In 1992, Czaplicki and colleagues attempted to transplant a pig heart into a patient. The recipient died after twenty-four hours, yet the graft showed no evidence of hyperacute rejection.


Baby Fae


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Organ Replacement | Biology | Brown University