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A transplanted pig’s heart lives for months in a baboon — is a human trial next?

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Xenotransplantation — the use of organs from other animals for human transplantation — may be much closer after European researchers showed they were able to transplant a pig’s heart into a baboon, and keep it alive for more than six months.

“This is huge,” said Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, the surgeon-in-chief at Toronto’s University Health Network, director of the lung transplant program, and a professor of thoracic surgery at the University of Toronto. 

Organ transplants are a life-saving miracle of modern medicine, but one of the barriers that keeps human to human transplants from being used more widely is the shortage of donor organs. That’s why for decades scientists have studied the potential of xenotransplantation. 

But over decades of experimentation in animals, researchers have encountered severe roadblocks. Keeping organs alive during transplantation proved difficult. Immune system tissue rejection has been a huge issue. And new troublesome incompatibilities between donor and recipient kept popping up.

That’s why this new success is so exciting.  “It’s one thing to have an organ transplanted that’s a xeno organ and not [being] rejected,” said Keshavjee. “But this was also working, like sustaining life.”

Surgeon Dr. Bruno Reichart from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and his colleagues published their findings in the journal Nature. They refined their process over three successive groups of transplant subjects. 

“Basically you’ve optimized the organ in the pig. You’ve optimized the organ outside the body. And you’ve optimized the environment for the organ after the transplant for success,” said Keshavjee. “And that’s the Holy Grail.”

Baboon survives 6 months after receiving pig heart transplant (Pixabay / RGY23)

Making pigs more human-like

For decades, pigs have been the primary focus of xenotransplantation research because they are similar in size to humans and it’s more socially acceptable to use their organs than it would be to use primate organs.

The first thing the team had to do was make the pig heart more primate-like to prevent the baboon’s immune system from attacking it  something they did by genetically modifying the pig embryos.

So basically you’ve optimized the organ in the pig. You’ve optimized the organ outside the body. And you’ve optimized the environment for the organ after the transplant for success. And that’s the holy grail.– Dr. Shaf Keshajee, University Health Network and University of Toronto

“They knocked out or removed a protein that is expressed on pig cells that primates don’t have and would recognize immediately. They humanized the cells and made it so that they would down regulate the immune system,” said Keshavjee.

Protecting the heart before transplantation

Typically human hearts meant for transplantation are put on ice, flown to the recipient, and then transplanted. That didn’t work for the pig hearts that were destined for the baboons. Three baboons died of heart failure almost immediately because pig hearts proved more vulnerable to damage than human hearts.

The European team built a state-of-the-art support system, which Keshavjee likened to a “little mini-intensive care unit for the organ” to keep the hearts running while outside the body. 

They reduced the organ’s temperature from 37 degrees Celsius to eight degrees, which was optimal for preserving the organ while maintaining vital cell processes in the heart. They also provided oxygen, nutrients and hormones.  “Basically you’re repairing and keeping it sustaining it in a vulnerable time of the journey of that organ,” said Keshavjee.

Stop the pig heart from growing too big

The final hurdle for the research team was to stop the pig’s heart from growing once it was placed in the baboon’s chest. 

This is a butcher holding a pig heart. Researchers want to use pig organs for xenotransplantation into humans because they’re roughly the same size as human organs. (REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh)

“The issue is that a pig is designed to grow to a larger size than those small baboons,” said Keshavjee. “And so they used further molecular engineering and drugs to prevent that unwanted growth.”

All of these things are coming together now where you can see that this is going to be possible.– Dr. Shaf Keshajee, University Health Network and University of Toronto

Two baboons with pig hearts remained healthy for 90 days, which is the benchmark set by the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplant to indicate it might be ready for human trials.  They were then euthanized. Two other baboons continued to live for 195 and 182 days. 

It will still be a few years before researchers will be ready for human xenotransplants.

“I mean just to be able to say it’s gonna be a few more years is dramatically different than what most people, including myself, would have said ten years ago,” said Keshavjee. “All of these things are coming together now where you can see that this is going to be possible.” 

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Post-vaccine surge? Michigan’s spring coronavirus case spike close to previous year’s autumn high

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(Natural News) The spike in new Wuhan coronavirus infections recorded in Michigan over the spring is similar to a spike seen during the 2020 fall season. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the state’s daily coronavirus case count averaged more than 7,000 for almost two weeks – before taking a slight dip to 6,891 on April 20. This echoed similar figures back in November and December 2020, which saw sharp rises in infections for those two months before plunging.

Back in autumn of last year, Michigan averaged more than 7,000 cases per day for a span of 10 days. New infections dropped slightly, then briefly spiked as the December holidays approached. It then fell to the low 1,000s for the succeeding two months – until ascending again in March.

According to University of Michigan internal medicine professor Dr. Vikas Parekh, the sudden increase in new infections could be attributed to several factors. Among the factors he cited was re-openings, which increased people’s interactions and mobility. Parekh said the loosened restrictions contributed to the spread of the highly contagious U.K. B117 variant.

“As the B117 variant spreads nationally, we will likely see other stats [with] their own surges – although I hope none are as bad as Michigan,” the professor remarked. He continued: “The milestone just tells us we are not yet in the clear, especially as we still have large portions of our population who are not vaccinated yet.”

Parekh also expressed optimism over the lower daily caseloads the Great Lakes State reported. He said he believes both cases and hospitalizations have plateaued and will likely decline soon. The professor commented: “[COVID-19] positivity has been declining now for one week, which is usually a leading indicator of case decline.”

Meanwhile, the state cited younger populations and youth sports, such as basketball, wrestling and hockey, to increase new COVID-19 infections. Because of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called to suspend youth sports and indoor dining in the state. She also exhorted high schools to conduct remote class sessions for two weeks to curb the spread of the pathogen.

Michigan still experienced the spike in cases despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country

During the opening stages of the U.S.’s immunization drive against COVID-19, Michigan boasted of having one of the highest vaccination rates nationwide. A report by Bridge Michigan even noted the initial “frenzy for vaccines” that “far exceeded the state’s limited supply.” But things have appeared to turn around for Michigan, as it now struggles to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

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Scottish mom’s legs turn into a pair of “giant blisters” after first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

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(Natural News) Sarah Beuckmann of Glasgow, Scotland, felt a tingling sensation in her legs and noticed a rash flaring up around her ankles a week after getting her first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 18.

She also had flu-like symptoms right after the vaccination.

Beuckmann called her doctor to arrange an appointment the morning she noticed the rash, but by the afternoon her skin was already breaking out into blood-filled blisters. Blisters also appeared on her legs, hands, face, arms and bottom.

“I ended up asking my husband to take me to A&E,” said Beuckmann, referring to “accident and emergency,” the equivalent of an emergency room (ER). “When I got there, my heart rate was sitting at 160bpm, which they were very concerned about. I got put on an ECG machine.”

Doctors determine AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine triggers the rash

Medics carried out tests for HIV, herpes and other skin conditions to work out what triggered the rash, but all results came back negative. Doctors finally determined that the vaccine caused her rare reaction after carrying out two biopsies.

“Once they found that it was a reaction to the vaccine, they put me on steroids and that really seems to be helping my progress,” said Beuckmann. She had been advised by her doctor not to get the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of her reaction.

Beuckmann spent 16 days at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She was discharged to recover at home. The 34-year-old mother of one is currently wheelchair-bound due to the bandages on her legs and blisters on the soles of her feet. She may need physiotherapy to help strengthen her leg muscles.

“They are starting to heal and they’re looking a lot better than they were but as the blisters started to get worse, they all sort of merged together,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

With the blisters merging, her legs have looked like a pair of “giant blisters.” Beuckmann admitted that at one point she feared her legs might have to be amputated.

Dermatologist agrees COVID-19 vaccine causes the blisters

Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman at the British Skin Foundation, agreed that Beuckmann had likely suffered a reaction to the vaccine.

“Vaccines are designed to activate the immune system. Occasionally people will have quite dramatic activation of their immune systems which, as happened in this case, can manifest in their skin” Wedgeworth told MailOnline. “This poor lady had a very severe reaction, which thankfully is extremely rare.”

It is not clear why Beuckmann, who works in retail, was invited for a vaccine. Scotland’s vaccine rollout was focused on people over the age of 50 when she got vaccinated, although vaccines are available to those who are considered at risk from the virus, or live with someone considered vulnerable.

At least 20 million Briton have had AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which drug regulators say causes a rash in one percent of cases. They say rashes caused by the jab tend to go away within a week.

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Trojan labs? Chinese biotech company offers to build COVID testing labs in six states

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In 2012, BGI acquired Complete Genomics, a DNA sequencing company and equipment maker. The funds for the $117.6 million purchase were raised from Chinese venture capitals. The company has expanded its footprint globally. According to its website, BGI conducts business in more than 100 countries and areas and has 11 offices and labs in the U.S.

People are concerned about China’s access to American DNA data

Some said that with Complete Genomics providing an American base, BGI would have access to more DNA samples from Americans, helping it compile a huge database of genetic information. Some also worried about the protection of the genetic information’s privacy.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), BGI “has formed numerous partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers and research organizations to provide large-scale genetic sequencing to support medical research efforts,”

There are three main reasons why many people in the biotech community and government have expressed concerns about China’s access to American DNA data.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Evanina discussed the very likely scenario in which Chinese companies would be able to micro-target American individuals and offer customized preventative solutions based on their DNA.

Evanina asked: “Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our healthcare services? Are we okay with that as a nation?”

The second concern is that China may use DNA to track and attack American individuals. As the USCC report states: “China could target vulnerabilities in specific individuals brought to light by genomic data or health records. Individuals targeted in such attacks would likely be strategically identified persons, such as diplomats, politicians, high-ranking federal officials or military leadership.”

The third concern is that China may devise bioweapons to target non-Asians. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, discussed it in his article “What Will China Do With Your DNA?” published by The Epoch Times in March 2019.

He wrote: “We know that the Asian genome is genetically distinct from the Caucasian and African in many ways. … Would it be possible to bioengineer a very virulent version of, say, smallpox, that was easily transmitted, fatal to other races, but to which the Chinese enjoyed a natural immunity? … Given our present ability to manipulate genomes, if such a bio-weapon can be imagined, it can probably – given enough time and resources – be realized.”

An article from Technocracy said: “China’s aggressive collection of American DNA should be doubly alarming because it can only spell one ultimate outcome: biowarfare. That is, genetically engineering viruses or other diseases that will be selectively harmful to U.S. populations.”

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