This medical video focuses on how pigs are being used to help prolong our life through the use of transplants.
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Jennifer Matthews: Dick Beyer has Parkinson's. Betsy Ray has diabetes. Dick Beyer: I move in slow motion Betsy Ray: I've got retinopathy in my eyes. I have cataracts. Jennifer Matthews: George Jones has kidney failure. George Jones: I guess if it wasn't for dialysis, I wouldn't be here. Jennifer Matthews: What do these diseases have in common? Some doctors predict pigs will cure them. Marlon Levy: The holy grail of all this is a pig whose organs are not recognized as pig organs but rather are seen essentially to have tissues that our immune system thinks is human tissue. Jennifer Matthews: Five years ago Marlon Levy used pig livers to do the job two patients' livers could not. Marlon Levy: The ending of this story is that both of these patients are doing remarkably well today. Jennifer Matthews: That's not enough to reassure activist Alix Fano. Alix Fano: We know that since the early 1990s about 16 people have died in human xenotransplantation trials. There have been patients in Parkinson's disease trials who have had pig cells injected into their brains who have come down with malignant cancers. Jennifer Matthews: But no research has been done to show a link, and scientists are expanding their research. Pig cells are now being studied for strokes, epilepsy and Huntington's disease. And doctors from Mexico recently transplanted pig islet cells into 12 diabetic children. Doctors say one is off insulin and the others reduced their insulin requirement by more than 60 percent. All this research gives Fano more reason to worry. Alix Fano: We do know that patients who have been exposed to pig cells and tissues do have pig DNA circulating in their blood, and that means they most certainly have pig viruses in their blood as well. Jennifer Matthews: It's these viruses that concern her most. Alix Fano: We're talking about putting the entire population at risk from a pig virus that could mutate and spread and kill lots of other people. Jennifer Matthews: Biotech companies are working to eliminate that. They're breeding pigs they say do not pass on the perv virus, the one deemed most dangerous to humans. Elliot Lebowitz: We know that at the end of the day if we're successful we'll do something really important. Jennifer Matthews: Infection control nurse Betsy Todd also worries about the future. Betsy Todd: Retroviruses like HIV or like PERV are by their very nature latent viruses. They take many years often before they can cause active infection. Jennifer Matthews: While it may be too early for species to share organs, researchers continue their work, hoping to give patients a second chance at life. This is Jennifer Matthews reporting.