Living Long Enough to Finally Figure Things Out

November 1st, 2023 by Nick Jacobs Leave a reply »

In September 2019, a team of highly trained medical professionals implanted a new heart valve into the aortic opening of my heart. This TAVR (Transcatheter Aortic Valve) procedure involved placing the valve through my femoral artery. The physicians guided a catheter, carrying the engineered valve, through the artery to my heart. Inside the catheter was a folded replacement valve, which they securely positioned within the old valve, and opened like an umbrella in a tropical drink.

They informed me that my valve was made from both synthetic and bovine materials and was expected to last from seven to an undetermined number of years. If it failed, replacement was a viable option. A myriad of questions crossed my mind. Was the bovine donor raised in a specialized environment for medical purposes?

            Was it grass-fed? Did they treat it like the Kobe cows, with massages and special care? Heck, after reading about Kobe beef, I’m inclined to think that, except for their ending, I’d like to be a Kobe cow. These cows supposedly drink beer, get massages with rice wine, and listen to classical music. So, what about medical cows and pigs or bovine and porcine donors being prepared for humans?

Recent studies involving individuals in their final moments, explored the use of compassionate animal organs—particularly porcine organs—for human transplants. These studies provided valuable insights into the necessary adaptations for these animal organs to be effective in humans. Physicians and scientists meticulously reengineered these organs for compatibility with the human body.

Naturally, pig and cow organs must undergo testing in non-human subjects before human trials. The preparation of one of these organs for transplantation into a monkey, for instance, requires about 69 genomic edits. I’m not a scientist, but even writing this column takes about 39 edits.

Not that any of us reading (or writing this) can fully understand, but before these organs can function, they must undergo engineering to eliminate glycan antigens, to overexpress human transgenes, and to inactivate porcine endogenous retroviruses. Yeah, I know. I didn’t understand that either. It’s perfectly okay. I’ve been working with genetic scientists for about 20 years, and much of this is still very mysterious to me.

What they have discovered, however, is that including human transgene expressions in the reengineering process could enable successful preclinical studies of renal (kidney) xenotransplantation (pig transplants) in nonhuman primates. This single discovery could bring us closer to clinical trials of genetically engineered porcine renal grafts. What?

In other words, we’re getting closer to being able to use specially grown pigs with genetically altered kidneys to be implanted in humans. What would the impact of that be? Each year, more than 97,000 people in the United States need kidney transplants, but only about 10,000 to 15,000 people actually receive transplants from donors. Just like that cow who gave up its life to give me a few more years, there could be enormous positive strides in life-saving transplants from altered pig kidneys.

So, between AI connected to our brains, bionic limbs and eyes, and porcine and bovine spare parts, we might just be able to extend this life thing long enough to figure out our purpose. I think we have a long way to go before we stop the abhorrent behavior that has been so rampant recently.

The genetic difference between a chimpanzee and a human being is about 1.2 percent. There is a zero-percentage difference genetically between humans of different races, colors, creeds, and religions. When will we accept each other as one race, the human race? More importantly, when will we stop killing each other because of our stupid, man-made prejudices and bigotry?  What we are seeing in Gaza, Israel, Ukraine, and even in places like Maine in the United States is symbolic of our need to rip the scales from our eyes and admit that we are a single race that requires two things to thrive, the love and respect of our fellow human beings.


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