An American charity has recently launched a contest where scientists all around the world can compete to grow a liver from scratch and then transplant it into live animals. The first team that manages to keep a minimum of three animals alive for 90 days will win a $1 million prize.
The Methuselah Foundation, based in Virginia, is a charity that focusses on human ageing and studies ways to extend the human lifespan. They launched the “New Organ Liver Prize” last month and say they plan to launch similar prizes for the heart, lungs and kidney.
According to the contest rules, the liver must be transplanted to large mammals only, which includes pigs, sheep, rabbits, dogs, cats, baboons and rhesus monkeys. Once the liver has been grown and surgically implanted into the animals, their existing livers will either be surgically removed or induced to fail so that the new liver can take over. In order to the win the contest, a success rate of 75% has to be achieved (equivalent to the survival of three out of four animals) and the animals have to maintain the ability to move, eat and remain a healthy weight for 90 days.
Xenotransplantation (the transplanting of organs from one species to another) has been attempted thousands of times using animals and has monumentally failed. Animals struggle to live more than a few days let alone weeks as their bodies reject the foreign material and their organs fail. Bioengineered organs, grown in the test tube, are currently very small and are not yet capable of supporting life. The contest is doomed to be unsuccessful and many animals will suffer dreadful side effects as their livers fail, ultimately killing them in many cases. The use of human organs from donors already saves many lives and more could be done to encourage and facilitate this humane way to maintain the lives of others.
The BUAV is appalled to hear about this barbaric organ transplantation competition and callous manner in which animal research is being encouraged. We are deeply concerned that researchers will be encouraged to conduct cruel, unnecessary and duplicative work that is very likely to cause substantial pain and suffering to animals.
1. New Prize for New Livers. (2013). Science, 342: 1297.