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A Brief History of Xenotransplants

Using organs from one species to treat another has long fascinated scientists.

By Allan Coukell // Fall 2005
First attempt at xenotransplantation

Erin Patrice O’Brien/Getty Images


TWO FRENCH PHYSICIANS MAKE THE first documented attempt at human xenotransfusion, giving 12 ounces of lamb’s blood to a feverish 15-year-old boy, who reportedly recovers—though not likely because of the treatment.

Interspecies blood transfusion

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A PHYSICIAN IN SCOTLAND PERFORMS eight experimental transfusions between cats, dogs and sheep. He concludes that the donor and the recipient should be from the same species.

1906: whole organ xenotransplantation attempted

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WHOLE ORGAN XENOTRANSPLANTATION begins in earnest when—perhaps inspired by a failed rabbit-to-human kidney-slice transplant—a French doctor transplants a pig kidney into a woman’s arm. It, too, fails.

“rejuvenation” therapy

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A DOCTOR IN PARIS TRANSPLANTS slices of monkey testicle into a man in the name of human “rejuvenation” therapy. By the early 1930s, more than 500 men reportedly have undergone the procedure to renew their vigor.

chimpanzee-to-human organ transplant

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A TULANE UNIVERSITY TEAM PERFORMS a reported 13 kidney transplants from chimpanzees into humans. One 23-year-old woman survives nine months, the longest-known survival for a human with a xenotransplanted organ.

Baby Fae gets a baboon heart

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AFTER AN ANTIREJECTION DRUG, Cyclosporine, is approved in 1983, a team from the Loma Linda University Medical Center transplants a baboon heart into a seriously ill newborn known as Baby Fae, who lives 20 days.

Baby Fae gets a baboon heart

Timothy Laman/Getty Images


A UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH surgeon transplants livers from baboons into two human recipients with advanced hepatitis B. One of the patients lives 70 days after surgery, the other 26 days.


That’s Some Pig


Sugar-free and engineered for tolerance, hogs may one day fill a need for transplant organs.

Crossing the Line

Could a transplanted pig organ serve as a Trojan horse for a deadly disease?

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