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Call for change in regulations surrounding xenotransplantation

Although few xenotransplantation procedures have been done to date, there appears to be a lack of awareness among potential xenotransplant patients about the risk of the procedures, and the required lifetime of infectious disease monitoring that comes with it, according to a new study published in The Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics.

When animal cells are transplanted into a human, there is always a risk of new diseases emerging, which is why the US federal government requires that a recipient must always be monitored on the long term, says Dr Monique Spillman, co-author of the study. Patients should be aware of the realities of life after the transplant before they make any decisions.

This issue has become particularly urgent recently, due to the theoretical risk that stem cell trials may involve human cell lines that have been in contact with animal tissue. Although the stem cells are human, they have to be subject to xenotransplant surveillance protocols due to contact with animal tissues in the laboratory.

While patients may be excited about these new therapies, they may not be aware that under the current US federal regulations, the recipient of a xenotransplant must submit to lifelong surveillance for infectious diseases, even if the animal organ or tissue is removed, says Spillman. Ultimately, the goal is to provide patients with the most informed choices while still protecting public health.