Health and life sciences

Fragments of life

© INSERM/Michel Depardieu
© INSERM/Michel Depardieu

In 1902, the French surgeon Alexis Carrel had the strange idea of removing a kidney from a dog to graft it onto its neck. A century after the success of this first autograft, another type of transplantation, the allograft – between two individuals of the same species –, is now current practice, including in man.

It nevertheless remains a serious and risky operation as the threat of reaction can never be ruled out, despite immunosuppressor treatment. This type of operation faces the problem of organ shortages, despite campaigns to increase awareness and even if more and more Europeans say they are in favour of organ donation. This is an urgent matter as a shameful trafficking and a no less shameful poverty are giving rise to growing transplantation tourism.

Within the next 20 or 30 years all of this could be no more than a bad memory as we may be able to create the necessary organs. Research on bionic prostheses, for example, has attained a level unimaginable just a decade ago, thanks to the biotechnologies. One day, perhaps, we will also cross the species barrier to ‘borrow’ from animals the hearts and kidneys we are lacking. Here too, even if clinical trials are still a long way off, research has made some extraordinary advances and the technical obstacles seem to be overcome as quickly as they arise. However there is the risk that these advances will cause us to forget the only barrier that we most certainly do not want to cross: that of ethics.