Heart banks


Al-Riyadh newspaper

ORGAN transplantation is no longer a difficult or rare process. However, it still faces an age-old problem: the probability of organ rejection. This occurs when the transplanted tissue is rejected by the recipient’s immune system, which destroys the transplanted tissue mistaking it for an invasive foreign body.

The immune system is our first defense against from viruses, bacteria and any foreign body that might harm us or cause us to fall sick.

When the immune system detects a foreign body that does not carry a similar code as that of our body, it starts attacking or rejecting it. Hence, when a new organ is transplanted, it might function normally at the start. But the immune system will soon identify the foreign body and start attacking it.

The solution doctors are resorting to at present is to prescribe immunosuppressants to reduce the probability of rejection, although this measure might weaken the immune system as a whole. In turn, the body will be exposed to serious diseases.

There is another chronic problem, which is the constant deficiency in the number of organ donors compared to the number of people in dire need for organs. For this reason, I recommend that everyone register their name as probable organ donors after death.

To overcome these two problems – organ rejection and scarcity of donors – some international specialist centers have tried to grow organs in the laboratory, using cells taken from the patient himself.

Such a procedure requires activating the stem cells and then direct them to transform into the cells of liver, heart, spleen or any other organ a person might need in future. As it is grown from the same body, the immune system will allow its survival. It will not attack and destroy the transplanted tissue but accept it instead.

Imagine the possibility of having specialist companies that grow standby organs in the laboratory for people in case they suffer from enlarged heart, liver cirrhosis or kidney failure in future.

There have been attempts to use animal organs and experiments to transplant them in humans after preparing them in the appropriate manner. Animals are deemed a big source of organs for transplant if the rejection tendency by the immune system could be tackled.

To overcome the problem, scientists have conducted many experiments by cloning animals that are genetically in conformity, in terms of size and capability, with human body.

The first experiment I know about in this field took place early this century when a specialist laboratory in Edinburgh was successful in cloning pig fetuses containing human genes compatible with human organs.

I personally expect, in the near future, the appearance of commercial laboratories that will develop human organs according to one’s request.

I also expect within the coming 30 years, an initiative by affluent and financially capable people to clone reserve organs for their hearts, livers and kidneys. They will keep these reserve organs in special banks to be used if necessary when they reach the ripe old age.

To reach this level, do not hesitate to register your name as a likely donor in the Saudi Center for Organ Transplantation (saudidonor.com).