Baboon Case Study Furthers Transplant Research

By Julia Newman ’19

Baboons serve as model organisms for humans in organ transplant studies.

Eight thousand people in the United States die each year while waiting for a viable heart transplant, but recent baboon studies suggest that scientists may one day be able to drastically decrease this statistic. Finding enough human organ donors can be extremely difficult, which has led researchers to investigate cross-species transplants within the last few decades. However, given that many donated human organs are rejected by the receiver’s immune system, it is not surprising that this rejection response is even quicker and stronger with organs from alternate species.

Despite this complication, researchers recently recorded a baboon that survived for nearly three years with a pig’s heart—a groundbreaking record. The key to the success was an antibody able to bind to a receptor called CD40, which is found on certain immune cells. By binding to it, the antibody prevented the immune response that normally causes clotting around the transplanted heart and eventually organ rejection. Although it will still be a long time before cross-species transplants could reliably be used in humans, the success of this research proves that it may not be as far off as scientists once thought.



  1. Servick, Researchers keep pig hearts alive in baboons for more than 2 years. American Association for the Advancement of Science (2016).

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