1. ITV Report

Transplant pioneer predicts hearts from pigs could be transplanted to humans within 2-3 years

Sir Terence English who performed that very first successful heart transplant at Papworth says he believes using organs from pigs in humans could be possible in the next two or three years.

Sir Terence, who has been visiting the new Royal Papworth Hospital building to mark the anniversary of the first successful operation, admits there will be ethical issues to deal with.

Sir Terence English (centre) visiting the new Royal Papworth Hospital Credit: ITV Anglia

ITV News Anglia spoke to him about the pressures of 40 years ago and his thoughts about the future:

  • How much pressure was there on you to succeed?

Well there was enormous pressure because there were a lot of people who didn't believe that it would work and that it was going to be too costly and the Department of Health was against us starting, so there was indeed an awful lot of pressure. We done an earlier case six months earlier and sadly it had failed due to some very curious circumstances which I won't go into, so everything really depended on this one with the Keith Castle who was the wonderful patient to have, because he was a real survivor

– Sir Terence English
  • When it became clear that this had become a successful transplant did that instantly change things for you at the hospital or did you have to fight quite so hard for subsequent support and funding?

Well we used our facilities for the first two cases at Papworth and I had permission for that by thereafter the next six were paid for by the National Heart Research Fund in Leeds, a small organisation but they kept us going for a while. Then I got a lot of money from the local millionaire in Cambridge, David Robinson, and he kept it going for a while. Then I got a small piece of funding from the Department of Health, but after 4 years we got proper funding following a very good piece of research on the costs and benefits of heart transplantation at Papworth and Harefield. Thereafter we had no problem with funding it was all done through money which was top sliced from the NHS budget."

– Sir Terence English
The new Royal Papworth Hospital Credit: ITV Anglia
  • Thousands of transplants have since taken place but there is still this long waiting list of course, demand is greater than supply. You’ve spoken about the possibility of pig organs being used to end that waiting list, how realistic do you think that is?

Well I think it's interesting, because the man who taught me everything I knew about heart transportation was a man called Norman Schumer in Stanford, California, and this is some years ago when I asked him about xenotransplantation, which is transplantation between animals and humans and he says well it’s got a great future, but it’s always in the future, well in fact I think that future might as well come about within the next 2-3 years because a colleague of mine Chris McGregor, who is national if not world expert on on this, has been hired by a xenotransplant Institute in Birmingham, Alabama and it's likely they will go ahead with a kidney pig to human transplant and if it works, it'll be taken up by hearts for sure."

– Sir Terence English
Sir Terence English Credit: ITV Anglia
  • And incredible if that does work, but can you understand there may be some ethical questions over that?

There will inevitably be serious ethical questions about it, both from the pig’s point of view and the human’s point of view. But if it works and it is able to make a big impact on the waiting lists for humans to have good heart transplants that will probably win the day after all the ethical issues of being dealt with.

– Sir Terence English