Xenotransplantation and risks of zoonotic infections

Ann Med. 2004;36(7):504-17. doi: 10.1080/07853890410018826.


The shortage of human organs and tissues for transplantation and the advances in immunology of rejection and in genetic engineering have renewed interest in xenotransplantation--the transplantation of animal organs, tissues or cells to humans. Clinical trials have involved the use of non-human primate, porcine, and bovine cells/tissues/organs. In recent years, research has focused mainly on pigs as donors (especially, pigs genetically engineered to carry some human genes). One of the major concerns in xenotransplantation is the risk of transmission of animal pathogens, particularly viruses, to recipients and the possible adaptation of such pathogens for human-to-human transmission. Porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) have been of special concern because of their ability to infect human cells and because, at present, they cannot be removed from the source animal's genome. To date, retrospective studies of humans exposed to live porcine cells/tissues have not found evidence of infection with PERV but more extensive research is needed. This article reviews infectious disease risks associated with xenotransplantation, some measures for minimizing that risk, and microbiological diagnostic methods that may be used in the follow-up of xenotransplant recipients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Graft Rejection
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Transplantation, Heterologous / adverse effects*
  • Zoonoses / etiology*