A summary of the patients who were featured in FRONTLINE's "Organ
Farm" report and the status of the clinical trials of pig-to-human transplants
in which they participated.
In 1994, at the age of 34, a stroke left one side of her body paralyzed. Five
years later, she decided to become one of five stroke victims who volunteered
for an experimental treatment using pig neural cells transplant.
Maribeth had thirty million fetal pig cells implanted into the part of her
brain damaged by the stroke. Since the operation, Maribeth has completed a
half-marathon, although she still uses a leg brace to walk. Each month her
blood is drawn and sent to the Centers for Disease Control for testing, a
process which she must follow for the rest of her life. But according to
Maribeth's husband: "It's just amazing to see the condition she's in today --
mentally and physically, since this pig cell transplant. Overall, her spirits
are just better. Maribeth's thought processes are much clearer,...Her speech
has significantly improved since this operation."
Although her case is an experimental success, Maribeth was part of the early,
Phase 1 clinical trial by the biotech company Diacrin to see if
xenotransplants of pig cells can help stroke victims.
In 1999, at the age of 21, Amanda suffered a massive stroke paralyzing her
body's left side. Hampered by a limp caused by her leg brace, Amanda decided
to become the fifth, and last person, to have a pig neural cells transplant as
part of a Phase I clinical trial.
But her gamble involves a risk beyond her own. She could become infected with
pig virus, which, if it spread to others could become a major public health
risik. Her doctors recommended she not have children because the long-term
effects are still unknown. In addition, she signed a remarkable medical
research consent form that will govern the rest of her life: no blood
donations, safe sex and recording of her partners. She also has had to agree
to follow up for life and access to her tissues after her death for research
A week after the procedure, Amanda had a seizure and further clinical trials
were halted while the doctors investigated why. In the ten months that have
passed since the treatment, Amanda has had no new seizures and can walk easily
without her brace.
The early Phase 1 clinical trial in which both Amanda and Maribeth Cook took
part is still on hold.
After 20 years of living with Parkinson's disease, Jim's condition had become
desperate. "I was at what they call end-stage Parkinson's.... I couldn't
walk, couldn't talk, couldn't use my hands. ... Just before the surgery I had
deteriorated so badly that I was contemplating suicide."
In 1997 he became part of an experimental Phase I clinical trial by
Diacrin/Genzyme. Jim was one of the first people to have millions of
fetal pig neural cells injected into part of his brain. The results were
dramatic. Six months later, he could walk independently and get up and sit down
from a chair. His neurologist, Dr. Samuel Ellias, said: "It's very unusual to
see this level of improvement in someone who's already been on most of the
treatments for Parkinson's disease which have begun to fail, and are not
working well. His gains have been really remarkable." Jim Finn is now a
Patient Advocate and voting member of the Secretary's Advisory Committee on
Xenotransplantation (SACX) which operates under the auspices of the National
Institutes of Health (NIH).
In 1997, twenty-year old Robert faced acute liver failure and no human liver
was available. His surgeons proposed hooking him up to a series of pig livers
outside his body, which they hoped would filter his blood and keep him alive
until a human donor was found. These pigs were transgenic--their organs had
been genetically modified to be human compatible.
For seven hours over three days, Robert was attached to a pig liver from a
transgenic pig developed by biotech company Nextran. Then, a human liver
became available. This procedure was done just weeks before such experiments
were halted by the FDA because of fears of a pig virus spreading to
humans. According to Dr. Marlon Levy, Robert's transplant surgeon, "Robert has
done well. The other patient that we have experimented with in this way has
also done well. Their family members continue to be alive and well. Our staff
doesn't seem to have been infected with any unknown or strange disease."
But the risk from the pig virus remains; live cells from the pig liver were
undoubtedly flushed into his body during this procedure and they may survive
in his body. So far, his blood has tested negative for unusual infections.
Pennington was one of a half dozen patients on a Phase 1 clinical trial whose
lives were saved using pig livers.
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