Animal-to-human organ transplants could be at the dawn of a new era thanks to progress in overcoming rejection and the creation of transgenic pigs.

Only about 25 per cent of critically ill patients in need of a donor heart, kidney or liver receive the life-saving organs. Many die while waiting for a transplant.

Xenotransplantation, the use of animal organs or tissue, is considered a possible solution to the worldwide shortage of donor organs.

Professor Ian F C McKenzie, Australian president of the International Xenotransplantation Association (IXA), told a medical conference that scientists are making progress in overcoming the obstacles in animal-to human transplants.

“We are now at the dawn of a new era,” he said.

Pigs, with organs approximately the same size as their human equivalents, are thought to be the best animals for organ transplants because they breed quickly and produce big litters.

But fears of pig viruses infecting human cells and problems of organ rejection have been major obstacles.

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