UCD researcher gets EU grant to study pig-to-human heart transplants

1 Jun 2023

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The Xenosim project aims to create ‘advanced biomechanical computational models’ to learn more about how pig hearts could function in the human body.

Dr Philip Cardiff, an associate professor at University College Dublin, has secured a prestigious grant to learn more about pig-to-human heart transplants.

Cardiff has been awarded a Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC) worth €2m over a five-year period. For the project, he will employ three postdoctoral researchers, three PhD researchers and one research assistant.

The highly competitive ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to academics to conduct pioneering research across all disciplines. A batch of Irish researchers secured these Consolidator Grants earlier this year.

The concept of cross-species organ, tissue or cell transplants is known as xenotransplantation and could become a way to address shortages of critical transplant organs. But while advances are being made in the realm of gene editing to make this concept possible, various barriers still exist such as rejection, infection and organ size differences.

“We stand on the threshold of a groundbreaking medical era where pig-to-human heart transplants are becoming a reality,” Cardiff said. “From an engineering standpoint, pig hearts share similarities with their human counterparts in terms of ‘pump design’. However, their distinct size, shape and functional characteristics introduce important differences that can impact their performance within the human body.”

Cardiff believes that a deep understanding of the physiological and mechanical challenges is required to achieve long-term success in this field.

His project – Xenosim – aims to provide computational insights into cardiac xenotransplantation by creating “advanced biomechanical computational models”. The ambitious project aims to develop new “coupled simulation approaches” to gain more insights into pig-to-human heart transplants. As a result, Xenosim also aims to create a new field of study called ‘computational cardiac xenotransplantation’.

“This pioneering research promises to offer not only unprecedented insights into the cutting-edge realm of cardiac xenotransplantation but also to establish pioneering computational techniques with significant implications for a wide range of scientific disciplines,” Cardiff said.

In 2019, eGenesis received $100m in funding to make pig organs suitable for human transplant through gene editing.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic