Xenotransplantation-associated infectious risk: a WHO consultation

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Fishman JA, Scobie L, Takeuchi Y. Xenotransplantation-associated infectious risk: a WHO consultation. Xenotransplantation 2012; 19: 72–81. © 2012 John Wiley & Sons A/S.

Xenotransplantation carries the potential risk of the transmission of infection with the cells or tissues of the graft. The degree of risk is unknown in the absence of clinical trials. The clinical application of xenotransplantation has important implications for infectious disease surveillance, both at the national and international levels. Preclinical data indicate that infectious disease events associated with clinical xenotransplantation from swine, should they occur, will be rare; data in human trials are limited but have demonstrated no transmission of porcine microorganisms including porcine endogenous retrovirus. Xenotransplantation will necessitate the development of surveillance programs to detect known infectious agents and, potentially, previously unknown or unexpected pathogens. The development of surveillance and safety programs for clinical trials in xenotransplantation is guided by a “Precautionary Principle,” with the deployment of appropriate screening procedures and assays for source animals and xenograft recipients even in the absence of data suggesting infectious risk. All assays require training, standardization and validation, and sharing of laboratory methods and expertise to optimize the quality of the surveillance and diagnostic testing. Investigation of suspected xenogeneic infection events (xenosis, xenozoonosis) should be performed in collaboration with an expert data safety review panel and the appropriate public health and competent authorities. It should be considered an obligation of performance of xenotransplantation trials to report outcomes, including any infectious disease transmissions, in the scientific literature. Repositories of samples from source animals and from recipients prior to, and following xenograft transplantation are essential to the investigation of possible infectious disease events. Concerns over any potential hazards associated with xenotransplantation may overshadow potential benefits. Careful microbiological screening of source animals used as xenotransplant donors may enhance the safety of transplantation beyond that of allotransplant procedures. Xenogeneic tissues may be relatively resistant to infection by some human pathogens. Moreover, xenotransplantation may be made available at the time when patients require organ replacement on a clinical basis. Insights gained in studies of the microbiology and immunology of xenotransplantation will benefit transplant recipients in the future. This document summarizes approaches to disease surveillance in individual recipients of nonhuman tissues.

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