Friday, 8 June 2007

Pig-to-human xenotransplants

Since many humans are very afraid of death and illness, there is a constant quest to find cures for diseases and malfunctions of the body. When an organ in the human body fails, it can nowadays be replaced with a healthy organ from a donor. Kidneys can be taken from living humans who are okay with getting on with only one kidney, while livers, hearts and other single organs will have to be taken from a dead human.

There is, however, a shortage of donated organs, and patients will often have to wait very long, and pay very large sums of money for it. Organs are big business, and there are sometimes reports of criminals killing people for their organs, or tricking people for a kidney.

Another possibility might be to transplant organs from genetically modified pigs. Pigs are very similar in size and form, and with genetical modification, it could be possible to make them even more similar to the human who would get the organ. Here is a basic Q&A about pig-to-human xenotransplants.

But pig organ transplants are dangerous and costly. Professor Sheila McLean and Doctor Laura Williamson spent 16 months putting together a 700-page document on the legal and ethical implications of xenotransplantation, and to help formulate a strategy for proceeding with the contentious technology.

"Its conclusions, leaked to The Observer at the end of June 2003, warn that the NHS and companies involved would be liable for a huge lawsuit if new, potentially lethal viruses emerge from the practice of putting pig cells and organs into the human body. And if the disease - which some experts have warned could create a new HIV-type virus - spreads across the world, the Government could be sued for breaching international law.

Patients would also have to choose between death and agreeing to lifelong monitoring and not to have unprotected sex or children, in case any disease could be passed on to another generation."

In the end, the government decided not to publish parts of the report, causing wide outrage.
Something else that could only be published after years of legal battle are the Diaries of Despair, a report on "the secret history of pig-to-primate organ transplants", which in horrific detail reveals one of Britain's most extreme programmes of animal experimentation, made to prepare the way for pig-to-human organ transplants.

Finally, Xenotransplantation - How Bad Science and Big Business Put the World at Risk from Viral Pandemics (Mae-Wan Ho and Joe Cummins, ISIS Sustainable Science Audit #2) "exposes the shoddy science that puts the world at risk of viral pandemics for the sake of corporate profit, and concludes that xenotranplantation should not be allowed to continue in any form. Instead, effort should be devoted to developing safer, more sustainable and affordable alternatives that are already showing promise and will be more likely to benefit society as a whole in the industrialized west as well as in the Third World."

Read more in this Stanford article.


This whole issue makes me think of Mikhail Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog, where a professor implants human testicles and pituitary gland into a stray dog called Sharik. (The story deeply disapponted me, as I had always thought it would be about a human who gets a dog heart transplant and turns doglike (and becomes a bigshot in the new Soviet Russia). But instead, it's a dog that gets human organs, and slowly turns more and more like the human donor (and becomes a bigshot in the new Soviet Russia). Hmm, so why "heart of a dog "? I only like the story because of the dog's internal monologues, before and after his period as the (mostly) human "Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov" ...)

Alice and the baby pig

In a slightly less known passage of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice notices that the baby she is carrying around has turned into a pig!

'The baby grunted again, and Alice looked very anxiously into its face to see what was the matter with it. There could be no doubt that it had a very turn-up nose, much more like a snout than a real nose: also its eyes were getting extremely small for I a baby: altogether Alice did not like the look of the thing at all. “But perhaps it was only sobbing,” she thought, and looked into its eyes again, to see if there were any tears.

No, there were no tears. “If you’re going to turn into a pig, my dear" said Alice, seriously, “I’ll have nothing more to do with you. Mind now!” The poor little thing sobbed again (or grunted, it was impossible to say which), and they went on for some while in silence.

Alice was just beginning to think to herself, “Now, what am I to do with this creature, when I get it home?” when it grunted again, so violently, that she looked down into its face in some alarm. This time there could be no mistake about it: it was neither more nor less than a pig, and she felt that it would be quite absurd for her to carry it any further.

So she set the little creature down, and felt quite relieved to see it trot away quietly into the wood. “If it had grown up,” she said to herself, “it would have made a dreadfully ugly child: but it makes rather a handsome pig, I think.” And she began thinking over other children she knew, who might do very well as pigs, and was just saying to herself, “if one only knew the right way to change them—” when she was a little startled by seeing the Cheshire-Cat sitting on a bough of a tree a few yards off.'

Had it been me, I would have been happy to bring the little piggy home and take care of it ...

Here is the whole book, with illustrations by Mabel Lucie Attwell.

Somewhere, a pig was herding sheep ...

... But I can't find the article about it.

Today I read in the Swedish newspaper DN about the llama stallion Grosse Günther, who will protect a herd of sheep against wolves. "At four years of age, the llamas are equipped with so-called killer-teeth, sharp like razorblades and enough to get most attackers", the sheepfarmer Ulf Ekman explains.

It's a bit funny, because I thought livestock guarding dogs (NB, not the same as herding dogs) were the best choice for protecting sheep against wolves (employed by sheepfarmers wherever humans, wolves and sheep have been coexisting since earliest times). Here is a report on livestock guarding dogs in Slovakia (in PDF format). Some typical livestock guarding dog breeds are Carpathian shepherd dogs, Mioritic shepherd dogs, Caucasian ovcharkas, Central Asian ovcharkas and Kangals.

But maybe these Swedish sheepfarmers don't have any experience with such dogs, and a llama is much easier for them to handle?

Anyway, why is this post about dogs, sheep and llamas, but not pigs?

Well, as I read about Grosse Günther, I remembered a story about a pig herding sheep some time in the 19th century, like a real-life Babe. The pig would lead the sheep to good grazing, bring them home in the evenings, and chase off wolves if need be.
I came across that story a couple of years ago as I was researching for "Pigs Have Wings", but I can't find it anymore ... If anyone has more luck than me, drop me a note!

Sunday, 3 June 2007

The Forest in Winter

From the directors: “This darkly comedic short film perverts a well-known fairy tale into a bizarre fable that is poised to traumatize a new generation of children and adults.”

Concept/design: Jake Portman, Bill Sneed
Story: Charlie Short
Music/sound design: Braincloud

They have obviously watched a lot of Yury Norstein animations. The subtitles don't do the Russian narration any justice, but that was probably fully intentional ...

Saturday, 2 June 2007 - Pigs we are!

Chrum is a design firm from Warsaw that specializes not least in all kinds of swinish motifs - often sarcastic and humourous, playing with the nasty stereotypes about pigs ... and sometimes unexpectedly heartwarming.

They have some very nice T-shirts.

Clovis and his bovine friends

Der Spiegel writes: "A modern-day boar in the north-western French region where the Asterix comics are set has avoided the plight of his forebears -- and even befriended a herd of cows."

In the district of Lohuec, a young wild boar has been adopted by a herd of cows. Locals have given him the name Clovis. Clovis and his cow friends seem to live happily and peacefully together, and local farmer Richard Crassin even feeds him together with the cows.
(Photo: AFP)