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Read the secret history of xenotransplantation experiments



News Archive

Another New Virus

As recently as 26th of February a new pig virus was reported to have infected two workers in Sydney, Australia. Causing deformities and stillbirths among pigs and severe flu-like symptoms in the two workers, the virus was traced back to a colony of fruit bats near the piggery.

One of the most frightening potential consequences of xenotransplantation (animal-to-human tissue transplants) is the transfer of viruses carried by donor animals into the human population. Pigs are considered to be "safer" donors, microbiologically-speaking, than primates as the infections from which they suffer are less likely to cause human disease than those of primates, but it has already been shown in the test tube that their viruses can infect human tissue. Xenotransplantation's advocates have claimed that screening could eliminate viruses but we have no mechanism to detect unknown viruses. As Australian virologist Peter Kirkland told a meeting in Sydney "you can't screen for disease agents that you don't know about." The discovery of this new virus, and the fact that it transferred from bat to pig to human being through a far less direct route than the implantation of living tissue inside the body, is yet another reminder of the level of our ignorance in this area, and the potential risks of this procedure.

Uncaged Campaigns 01.04.98

Scientists Call for Moratorium on Xenotransplantation

Seven specialists with an interest in xenotransplantation, led by Fritz Bach of Harvard Medical School have called for a moratorium on human trials in the USA until an informed public debate on the issue has taken place.

In a letter to Nature, published 22nd January, they note the risk of infectious agents crossing from pigs to human beings and write "given the potential risk to the public, the issue is first and foremost an ethical one..an informed public debate is needed so that the public can decide whether it wishes to consent to clinical xenotransplantation at all and, if so, under what conditions." Nature's editorial counselled caution, and another editorial in The Economist on 24th Jan wrote "to allow any further xenotransplants without a far clearer idea of the potential risks - and a strong, international system in place for monitoring recipients - would be folly indeed."

The risk of transfer of pathogens and the potential for a transferring virus to cause an epidemic has been highlighted by the recent outbreak of flu originating in chickens in Hong Kong - HIV 2 is also known to have originated in monkeys. In October 1997 British scientists announced the discovery of viruses carried by pigs' own DNA which can infect human tissue and which, according to one researcher may be impossible to eradicate prior to transplant (New Scientist 18/10/97). Screening for unknown viruses is an even greater challenge.

As Bach writes, the risk of infection in the general population renders the issue one of concern to everyone; in effect any human trial constitutes an experiment on the entire population. For a critically-ill individual patient offered a xenotransplant in the absence of a human organ, the risk of infection may appear to be worth taking; the possible consequences of that decision have far wider ramifications however. It is essential therefore that an informed public debate precedes any progression to clinical trials. This is particularly important at present as the UK government's decision on human trials is expected to be announced within a month.

Of course, many scientists and others consider the unknowns surrounding xenotransplantation an indication for more animal research. The fact is, of course, that no animal experiment can prove the safety of animal organs which, theoretically, could last twenty years in a human being. Even the smallest immunological difference between humans and experimental animals could become the gateway for a pathogen. The moral and prudent solutions to the shortage of organs are prevention of conditions that may lead to the need for a transplant, improving the supply of usable human organs and improving the long term success of human transplants.

It is interesting to note that opinion polls have shown some divergence in attitudes to xenotransplantation between the USA and the European Union. In the US 75% of people would consider an animal organ for a loved one if no human organ was available. In the EU only 36% thought the practice morally acceptable. Most interestingly, the US study found opposition to xenotransplants strongest among those people with the highest level of knowledge about it.

No big surprise?

Uncaged Campaigns 28.01.98

Baboons Frozen in Cryogenics Experiments

At the start of the year US scientists announced that they had successfully resuscitated baboons which had been frozen in ice for several hours.

By replacing the baboons blood with an artificial plasma while slowly cooling them down to 1°C, the normal deterioration of the tissues that would be expected with freezing was prevented. The baboon experiments follow experiments in which hamsters were resuscitated after seven hours at 1-2°C with no heartbeat. The number of animals who died before these "successes" were obtained has not been reported in the UK press.

These results were announced at the annual meeting of the American Association of Anti-Ageing Medicine. It is thought that the research could ultimately lead to the development of techniques to cool human beings in "suspended animation" for many years, possibly in order to be treated when medical research discovers treatments for conditions which are incurable at the time of freezing-or even to allow space travel. Less fantastical potential uses for the technique, if successful, could include the cooling of trauma victims, such as soldiers on the battlefield, until more specialised help is available, and in various kinds of surgery. The research was performed by Biotime of California.

Although the cooling procedure was carried out under anaesthetic, all the animals involved must have suffered considerably. Baboons are highly intelligent animals that normally live in complex social groups: the isolation and confinement of laboratory conditions must inevitably be extremely stressful for them. Assessing any fine neurological or even psychological damage that may occur in the freezing process is clearly extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do using animals so if this technique ever reaches human beings the first patients will be undergoing a substantial risk. The question remains, of course, whether it ever will reach that stage.

The technique was presented and widely reported as a kind of sci-fi miracle, promising life-saving results. In reality, the technical, ethical and financial obstacles to suspended animation for human beings makes it unlikely it will ever be used for that purpose - there is a massive difference between freezing an animal in a laboratory for a very short period and a usable, practical, economically-viable medical technique for human beings. What may result is a useful aid to certain types of surgery. The hype suggests that medical technology and the animal experiments will, as ever, change the world. The reality is that there have been no world-changing developments in medicine for many years, despite millions of animal experiments. This is just another example of animal suffering to prove simply that something can be done.

Uncaged Campaigns 28.01.98

Five Hundred Descend On Oxfordshire Cat Farm

Hillgrove Farm near Witney, Oxfordshire, and its proprietors, the Browns, have been the subject of an intense campaign as a result of their business of breeding cats for vivisection. Sunday 18th January 1998 saw the largest demonstration at Hillgrove. Around 500 people from around the country gathered to voice their opposition to Hillgrove's trade in cats.

After encircling the farm, protesters blocked the road and held a spontaneous march towards Witney town centre. In the meantime, other protesters visited the home of an employee of Hillgrove. The pressure on Hillgrove and the Browns is building. It is reported that their other business interests are suffering: apparently, their Bed & Breakfast business has ceased and the Caravan Club have decided not to visit Hillgrove any more. Protesters receive strong support from local people unhappy with Hillgrove's trade in cats, with many motorists sounding their horns in support of the demonstrators at the roadside, and local residents applauding the march towards Witney.

The police presence was less numerous than for the demo in November. Not what one would have expected had one believed media reports from November's demo of the police being pelted with missiles by hundreds of people! For the most part, the demonstration passed off peacefully apart from some aggressive behaviour by mounted police. However, reports have been received of one person being beaten up by the police at the home visit, in addition to some petty arrests.

The bill for policing Hillgrove Farm now stands at some £300,000. How much longer can Hillgrove continue to breed cats to sell to vivisection laboratories? With the campaign's momentum increasing, that bill will continue to rise inexorably.

The media bias continues as well. BBC Thames Valley Radio put out an outrageous report on their news bulletin at 17.00 hours on the day of the demo. They described Farmer Brown as breeding cats for "medical experiments", thereby giving the false impression that the torture of the cats brings direct health benefits for humans. There is no such thing as a "medical" experiment on a nonhuman animal. They also quoted Farmer Brown's claim that the animals do not endure any "unnecessary suffering", without allowing the Hillgrove Campaign to give the facts about the fate of the cats. Finally, the report contained an interview with a protester described as "dreadlocked". This can only be interpreted as a crass attempt to reinforce stereotypes and prejudices among their less enlightend listeners. The whole piece was intrinsically biased, with the overall aim being to discredit the campaign as much as possible. BBC TV News bulletins took a similar line.


  • It is of the utmost importance that media bias does not go unchallenged. Complain to BBC Thames Valley Radio, PO Box 952, Oxford OX2 7YL, or telephone them on 01645 311444. Also complain to BBC Programme Complaints Unit, BBC Broadcasting House, London W1A 1AA.
  • For background information on Hillgrove Farm's cat breeding business, updates on the progress of the campaign and dates of future events, contact SAVE THE HILLGROVE CATS, Box CB, 111 Magdalen Road, Oxford OX4 1RQ.

Uncaged Campaigns 19.01.98

MOD Experiments Kill 11,000 Animals In 1996

A written parliamentary answer has provided much sought information about the use of animals in military experiments. 11 221 animals procedures were performed on a range of animals including primates, in 1996, although the MOD is refusing, unsurprisingly, to disclose the nature of those procedures. This figure compares with about 4 500 procedures in 1992. Six of the MOD's project licences (out of a total of 36) allow "substantial" suffering to be inflicted, the maximum level permitted under British law.

John Chisholm, director of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, based at Porton Down stated that the increase in numbers of experiments since 1992 was partly due to research designed to bolster the UK's "biological defence capability," and there is concern that a new research programme into "Gulf War Syndrome" may lead to further increases in the coming year.

Recent American animal experiments completely failed to find a cause for the syndrome.

The Government stated prior to the election that they would not allow animals to be used for the "testing and development of weapons" but secrecy surrounds the whole area, making evaluation of the Government's adherence to this promise impossible. "Defensive" work such as that described with biological weapons would be exempt from that prohibition, making the value of the promise questionable in the extreme, even if it could be assessed.

Uncaged Campaigns 08.12.97

Renewed Call for Royal Commission on Animal Experiments Following Withdrawal of Diabetic Drug

Uncaged Campaigns have called on the Government to honour its pre-election promise to have a Royal Commission of Enquiry into animal experiments in the light of the withdrawal of troglitazone, as widely reported on 2nd December. While much concern has focussed recently on the use of animals for cosmetic and military testing, medical experimentation has escaped censure because of its presumed utility to human beings. The withdrawal of Glaxo-Wellcome's troglitazone, a drug intended for the treatment of diabetes, is clear evidence that the use of animals in the testing of medicines is not justified by the results.

Like all other medicines on sale in this country troglitazone was tested on animals prior to human trials yet, according to Glaxo's data sheet, although a number of other potential problems were identified, no "data of clinical significance" about liver effects was obtained in this way. 130 cases of liver damage and six deaths have been linked to its use worldwide in just three months on sale. This drug joins Opren and Eraldin amongst others on the long list of those deemed apparently safe following animal tests which have then proved dangerous to human beings.

2.7 million animals at least were used in experiments in this country last year, the majority in the development and safety testing of medicines. This procedure is scientifically flawed and completely outdated, as the events surrounding troglitazone show. The Labour Party promised a Royal Commission on animal experiments before the election, presumably in recognition of the need for a fundamental re-evaluation of their moral justification and scientific validity. The tragic consequences of the inaccuracy of animal experiments in the case of troglitazone demonstrate once again the urgent need for such an investigation.

Spokesperson for Uncaged Campaigns, Alistair Currie said:

"The case for the abolition of animal testing of medicines and its replacement with more modern and sensitive techniques is now overwhelming. An informed public debate about the whole issue is essential. We hope that the Government can show that they are willing to respond to a pressing need and not just to newspaper headlines on this issue. We are calling on them to honour the promise they made, in the recognition that human and animal welfare is at stake and we trust that they will not sacrifice it in the face of pressure from vested interests, or in the mistaken belief that they have conceded enough on animal issues. Inflexibility is not the same as strength."

Uncaged Campaigns 08.12.97


Uncaged 1993-2012: This is the archived website of Uncaged. All information correct at the time of archiving - November 2012.