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Victory for Uncaged against pig organ transplant experiments

September 20, 2007

Uncaged News

Victory for Uncaged against pig organ transplant experiments

News is emerging that indicates Uncaged has scored another major victory in our historic battle against pig organ transplants. Recent difficulties in obtaining a Home Office licence to vivisect and genetically engineer pigs have contributed to an end to such research in Britain.

Two years ago, Uncaged discovered that the Home Office had licensed animal experiments involving Professor Robert Winston that aimed to develop pig organ transplants. We believe that this research is especially cruel, pointless and therefore in breach of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

We've conducted public information campaigns, lobbied MPs and pressurised the Home Office. Now it seems our attempts to highlight this absurd research are paying off.


According to one of the Home Office documents released to Uncaged, this research project aims to overcome the first obstacle to pig-to-human transplants, hyperacute rejection, which is the extremely rapid and destructive immune response suffered by organs when they are transplanted across the species barrier, particularly between distantly-related species.

However, in the mid-1990s, a biotechnology company called Imutran overcame hyperacute rejection in pig-to-primate organ transplants, only to spend the next six years subjecting hundreds of primates to severe suffering in a vain attempt to understand and overcome the subsequent rejection mechanisms. The Government's own expert advisory committee has written off pig organ transplants as dead in the water. Despite all this, the Home Office documents show that they initially rubber-stamped Winston's research project because they incorrectly believed that overcoming hyperacute rejection would lead to the clinical use of pig organs.

Uncaged forces scrutiny

On Monday 10 September, Winston complained at the British Association Science Festival in York that delays in obtaining Home Office licences for invasive procedures on pigs had contributed to this vivisection ending in the UK. It appears that since Uncaged turned the spotlight on this research, the Home Office have been forced to examine Winston's wild claims for his research more closely.

Winston is now threatening to apply for funding to the United States National Institutes for Health, and conduct the experiments in the mid-west US state of Missouri. We're working with US groups to challenge this.

Despite the concern that the research may simply be relocated, overall this is a victory for animals. Firstly, there is no reason to believe that the experiments would be even more severe if conducted in the US. Secondly, the path to a more objective and critical attitude on the part of government towards animal experiments has to start somewhere. Greater scrutiny of vivisection in the UK can only encourage researchers to be more reflective about animal experiments and accelerate the development of non-animal methods -- not all proposed vivisection can simply be transferred abroad.

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