For the 87,000 people on the waiting list for transplants in the United States alone, stem cell research leading to cloned human organs is a distant hope. Far more likely in the short run, at least according to its most passionate advocates, is xenotransplantation, or transplantation across species. Putting animal organs into humans may seem distasteful or even unethical, but in The Xeno Chronicles
, G. Wayne Miller shows readers why it might be worth pursuing. The book follows the scientific trials and tribulations of Dr. David H. Sachs of the Harvard Medical School in his quest to successfully transplant into baboons the organs of a "double-knockout" pig--cloned and genetically engineered so that its DNA lacks two copies of the gene that causes its cells to be rejected by other species. Over the course of the book, Miller follows the fate of pig #15502, known as Goldie. Considering her ultimate fate, it's odd that Miller goes out of his way to relate how cute and cuddly the pig is. "Goldie passed a restful night and was happy and playful at breakfast that morning," he writes, then proceeds to describe her quiet, surgical end.
Animal rights activists likely won't appreciate how kind and gentle the animal researchers are to their subjects, and Miller gives them their say in the book. A PETA member points out that if people didn't eat so much bacon, they wouldn't need pig hearts to keep themselves alive. Still, Miller points out that the majority of patients waiting for organs did nothing to bring on their disease, and they have little choice right now but to wait--and wait--and sometimes die waiting for human donor organs. In this light, it's hard not to root for Sachs's passion for getting xenotransplantation right in a constant race against time and the medical research bureaucracy. --Therese Littleton
From Publishers Weekly
Don't get too attached to Goldie, the baby pig traveling with her teddy bear in the opening pages of Miller's behind-the-scenes look at Harvard's experiments in xenotransplantation, cross-species organ transplants. She's been specially bred to create body parts that won't be automatically rejected by other species, and before too long her heart and kidneys will be given to baboons so scientists can monitor their viability. Xenotransplantation (xeno for short) has the potential to radically transform medical practice, and Miller (who wrote about the early days of open-heart surgery in King of Hearts
) notes the financial stake pharmaceutical companies have in this research. But he focuses on the human issues, delving into doctors' motivations and thoughtful reactions to charges of torture by animal-rights activists. As Miller describes, every effort is made to minimize the animals' suffering, but the researchers' overriding concern is improving the quality of human lives. That sentiment is echoed by a woman desperately awaiting a suitable heart for transplant and a long-time dialysis patient, both enthusiastic at the prospect of readily available organs, whatever the source. Some personalities come more alive than others, such as Dr. David Sachs, the lab's jolly, optimistic head, but Miller always keeps readers' attention focused squarely on the hopes being placed on this research.
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