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Pig hearts 'could be used in human transplants within three years' after gene breakthrough 

A pig 

Pig hearts adapted for human use could be available to patients within three years, the surgeon who pioneered heart transplantation in the UK has said.

Sir Terence English, who performed Britain’s first successful heart transplant 40 years ago on Sunday, believes “xenotransplantation” could all but eradicate the donor waiting list.

He told The Sunday Telegraph that his protege during the 1979 operation is preparing to perform the world’s first pig-to-human kidney transplant “before the end of this year”, which - if successful - would open the door to more complex organs.

There are currently around 280 patients waiting for a heart transplant in the UK. Suitable donated organs are scarce because they must be in a healthy condition, removed from a brain stem-dead donor and transplanted within a few hours, and match the recipient biologically and in size.

“If the result of xenotransplantation is satisfactory with porcine kidneys to humans then it is likely that hearts would be used with good effects in humans within a few years,” he said.

Sir Terence English performed the first successful UK heart transplant 40 years ago on Aug 18 1979 Credit: JULIAN SIMMONDS FOR THE TELEGRAPH 

“If it works with a kidney, it will work with a heart. That will transform the issue.”

Prof Christopher McGregor, who was Sir Terence’s senior registrar when they performed Keith Castle’s successful transplant in 1979, has now developed two “knock-out” genes that promise to allow porcine organs to be safely used in humans.

His team at the University of Alabama believes it can perform a pig-to-human kidney transplant within the next few months. This is considered a good starting point because if the operation does not work the patient can return to dialysis.

“There will be animal rights people who will say it’s entirely wrong,” said Sir Terence. “But if you can save a life isn’t that maybe a bit better?”

Last year a study in the journal Nature reported a baboon given a pig heart transplant survived for six months. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Sir Terence also calls for loved-ones' views always to be protected once England moves to an opt-out organ donation system, due to take place next year.

While the current proposals mean doctors must take the views of a donor’s family members into account, he warned against the “ethicists having their way”, and drifting towards a “hard” opt-out system.