Pig Heart Transplant Controversy, Dr Muhammad Mohiuddin Gives Reason


Pig heart transplant to humans for the first time carried out in the United States (US). The operation was hailed by many as a medical breakthrough. But some have questioned whether the procedure is ethical, sparking controversy.

Some have questioned moral issues related to patient safety, animal rights, and religious issues. The loudest is, of course, related to religion. Moreover, the figure behind the success of this transplant, namely Dr Muhammad Mansoor Mohiuddin, is a Muslim.

Islam and Judaism prohibit the consumption of pork under normal circumstances. However, pork products have been widely used in medicines ranging from insulin to measles vaccines.

In addition, pork-based valves have helped many Muslim patients' hearts since the first graft surgery was performed in the 1960s. The process is called xenotransplantation, which is the transfer of functioning tissues or organs from one species to another.

Dr Mohiuddin's Reason

Pigs have been the subject of choice for xenotransplantation studies almost by default. Why not other animals, goats or sheep for example?

"As Muslims, we may have a problem with pigs. But for the rest of the world, it (pork) is commonly consumed as food," said Dr Muhammad Mansoor Mohiuddin, director of the cardiac xenotransplantation program at the University of Maryland Medical Center, in a November 2021 interview, quoted from TRT World.

Dr Mohiuddin, is a devout Muslim from Pakistan. He became one of the pioneers in the field of xenotransplantation. Before his name was discussed as the man behind the first successful transplant of pig hearts to humans, he and his team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) succeeded in attaching pig hearts to several baboons in 2014. One of the hearts, managed to survive for almost 3 years.

"We have completely mapped the pig genome," he said, referring to the collection of genetic information that forms the basis of living organisms.

"We know how pigs are different from humans and what changes are needed to make the organs acceptable in our bodies. We don't know much about goats or cows," he said.

Non-human primates such as gorillas are the most ideal candidates for donor organ harvesting. Genetically, they are closer to humans. That's one of the reasons why the most advanced xenotransplant tests are still being performed on monkeys.

The problem is, baboons, gorillas, and chimpanzees are endangered species. There is also concern that some zoonotic viruses, such as the Corona virus, could pass from monkeys to humans.

Pigs have become the animal of choice for researchers for a variety of reasons. These animals grow quickly, reproduce frequently and are abundant in number, and the size of their organs is similar to that of humans.

Another major hurdle to overcome is the strong immune response, which is triggered when the human body comes into contact with foreign tissue, often rejecting it outright. So far, the results of xenotransplantation show that pig organs can 'cooperate' with the human body.

Dr Mohammed Ghaly, professor of Islam and biomedical ethics at Qatar's Hamad Bin Khalifa University responded to such controversies by mentioning that the main view of scholars is that it is possible to use pig parts, as long as we have no other available alternative.

"We have Islamic rules that say something that is forbidden can become permissible if there is a medical need. After all, saving human lives is seen as a very noble attitude in Islam," he said.

Organ transplantation is usually a last resort for thousands of critically ill patients. In the US alone, more than 100,000 people are waiting for an organ donor. Many of them are dying due to a shortage of kidney and liver donors.

Despite the demand, successful xenotransplantation has proven to be an elusive goal for researchers for more than 40 years since the first scientific attempt to transplant whole animal organs into humans.

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