Australia announced Thursday it will lift a 5-year ban on
clinical trials of animal-to-human transplantation, after the
government's top health body determined the risk of transmitting
animal viruses to people was low.
The decision by the National Health and Medical Research Council
means Australia will join a slew of other countries - including the
United States and New Zealand - who have conducted trials of
xenotransplantation, the transfer of living cells, tissues or
organs from one species to another.
Xenotransplantation researchers hope the procedure can someday
serve as a substitute for human organs, which are in chronic short
supply, and help treat diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's.
The council issued a ban on clinical trials in 2004, after
concerns were raised about the risks of transmitting animal viruses
- particularly those from pigs - to humans.
On Thursday, the council said in a statement it was satisfied
such a risk was low and that trials should be allowed to proceed
once strict regulatory and surveillance frameworks are put in
place. The council plans to consult the Australian Health Ethics
Committee and Animal Welfare Committee to develop guidance for
researchers and ethics committees involved in animal-to-human
The World Health Organization has urged nations to establish
regulatory control and surveillance mechanisms before allowing such
transplants to take place.
Jacqueline Dalziell, project coordinator for Animal Liberation,
a group opposed to the use of animals in scientific testing, is not
convinced the procedure is safe.
"The public, who had no say in this discussion whatsoever, will
be the first to be directly affected if a new pandemic like AIDS
... is introduced into Australia through the ban being lifted," she
said. "The whole of Australia is currently taking part in an
experiment without their consent."