Transplants for Pets: The New Frontier

Although potentially lifesaving, the procedure has physical and ethical consequences for owners and animals.

By | Posted: Sat Feb 10 00:00:00 PST 2001

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On the horizon, investigators are trying to find novel ways to halt graft rejection. One way is monoclonal-antibody suppression. Monoclonal antibodies are clones of one killer cell that targets a specific immune-system cell, such as a T-cell or B-cell. The hope is to focus on wiping out the specific line of immune-system cells involved in organ rejection while sparing the rest of the immune system. A second way to stop graft rejection, researchers think, is by using specific poisons that attack T-cells, which are active in rejection. Several such toxins are available, but the trick is getting the right dose to harm T-cells while leaving the rest of the animal feeling fine. A third course of study involves bathing the implanted organ rather than the recipient dog with strong immune suppressants before, during or after transplantation. The hope is that an organ soaked in these drugs will be protected from attack. Finally, semipermeable membranes are under development. The new organ can be wrapped in a cellophane-like material that allows the organ to function - allowing a pancreatic islet cell to release insulin, for example - but keeps the immune system from penetrating the membrane's protective fortress, thus protecting the organ from the immune system. Although all of these ideas show promise, there are years of development ahead before any become practical.

 

The final problem in the future of dog transplantation is expense. "Whether transplants will be available to the average dog owner is dependent on the price of drugs, Dr. Gregory said. Compared with human transplantations, which cost from $50,000 to more than $250,000, depending on the organ and the drug therapy used, canine kidney transplantation is a bargain, costing close to $10,000 for the surgery and drugs for the first year. Even at this price, the tag is too high for most owners. "As technology goes on and technology becomes less expensive, it will be easier to afford, but it will never be just pennies a day," Dr. Gregory said.

The bottom line, however, is not only saving a life at any expense but giving a dog a good-quality life for the extra days. " I definitely would do this all over again - I wouldn't hesitate for a second," Tozzoli said, explaining how wonderful Chloe has felt since the surgery. "At the same time, if I were talking to someone else, I'd tell them to think long and hard about it. The medication routine is more work than you can even imagine. Between the expense and the lifestyle changes, a lot of people simply can't do this, and they shouldn't feel guilty. It's not for everyone." (Too see if it's for you and your dog, take this quiz.) At least, it's not for everyone yet. Chloe, with her wagging tail and sparkling eyes, seems pleased that it was just the ticket for her.

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