In Japan, Sheep May Soon be Walking Human Organ Banks

May 5, 2009

(ChattahBox)—Japan suffers from a chronic shortage of organ donors, forcing many sick Japanese requiring life-saving organs to get on a plane to a neighboring country for an excursion of “organ tourism.” This may all change soon, with the groundbreaking new research using sheep as incubators for human organs grown from stem cells, turning sheep into walking human organ banks.

The shortage of Japanese organs is not for want of donors, but instead results from the country’s definition of legal death. The Japanese legal system defines death at the point when the heart permanently ceases and not at the point of brain death, as is the case in the U.S. and many other nations. Therefore Japan doesn’t allow the harvesting of organs at the point of brain death, the most viable time period to obtain a healthy organ for transplant.

Additionally, the law forbids children under the age of 15 to legally consent to organ donation. The consequences of Japan’s strict laws are a national health crisis. Consider the stark statistics; the United States has a rate of 27 organ donors per one million people, but in Japan the rate is a startlingly low rate of 0.8. To make matters worse, Japan is imposing restrictions on international organ tourism, leaving many patients needing an organ transplant without options, except death.

Professor Yutaka Hanazono of ichi Medical University is hoping to fix Japan’s organ donor problem by using sheep as human organ factories. Hanazono successfully grew a pancreas in a sheep culled from monkey stem cells. Hanazono plans to advance his technology to be able to grow human livers in sheep within ten to 20 years.

“We have shown that in vivo (in a living animal) creation of organs is more efficient than making them in vitro (in a test tube) but now we really need to hurry,” said Professor Hanazono.

In a life saving race against time, Hanazono feels the weight of the nation on his shoulders as Japanese citizens suffer from lack of organ donors. A Japanese politician and former pediatrician, Taro Nakayama has recently proposed a change to Japan’s antiquated organ transplant laws, but many in the country oppose it and the law is not about to change anytime soon.

In a nation where many citizens are either Shinto or Buddhist, they are sensitive to the concept of death. In Japan death is viewed as an ongoing process, taking place only when the spirit is separated irrevocably from the body. Even then, an interim stage believes to exist after the spirit leaves, when the spirit roams the earth for forty-nine days before final death occurs.

Meanwhile, despite the new international organ tourism restrictions, desperate patients with the financial means urgently needing organ transplants, will do whatever it takes, leaving less fortunate Japanese citizens out in the cold.



2 Responses to “In Japan, Sheep May Soon be Walking Human Organ Banks”

  1. Kurunta » Ichirō Ozawa on May 6th, 2009 9:11 pm

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  2. Would You Save Jesus? - Page 2 on May 7th, 2009 8:32 pm

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