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Health ministry to relax guidelines for some animal-to-human tissue transplants

Guidelines for preventing infection following the transplant of animal tissues into humans are set to be partially loosened for some source animals, including swine, a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare research team has announced.

    Plans have been underway domestically for transplants of pancreatic islets from pigs into humans with diabetes. However, such procedures have hitherto not been possible due to the risk of unknown infections, as retroviruses present in pig DNA could possibly infect a human recipient post-transplant.

    Such transplants should now become possible due to the relaxed restrictions, set to be announced during upcoming health ministry deliberations.

    As human-to-human transplants remain stalled due to a donor shortage, some researchers are hopeful that animal tissue transplants will be an important path forward.

    Guidelines regarding transplant infections that were put together by the health ministry research team in 2001 stated that "we are not at a stage where it can be guaranteed that unknown infections will not occur. It also remains difficult to make predictions with respect to this problem."

    As a result, strict post-transplant measures have been called for -- including lifelong monitoring.

    Clinical research on transplants of pancreatic islets from pigs into humans has begun overseas, however, with no retrovirus cases having been reported at international academic conferences.

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