50 years ago, doctors lamented a dearth of organ donors

Excerpt from the March 15, 1969 issue of Science News

doctor carrying donor organ

DISHEARTENING  Fifty years ago, a low supply of donor organs meant a grim future for patients in need of a working heart.


Cover of the March 15,1969 issue of Science NewNumber of donors drops —

Both laymen and surgeons have become faint-hearted about heart transplants.… The rejection and infection problems remain unsolved, and although Dr. [Denton A.] Cooley has performed the greatest number of transplants in the world, he has had to stop operating for lack of donors. — Science News, March 15, 1969


Candidates for heart or other organ transplants still far outnumber donors. Every day, 20 people on average die while waiting for a transplant in the United States. Scientists hope to remedy the shortage using organs harvested from animals. To keep a human body from rejecting nonhuman cells, scientists are turning to gene editing (SN: 10/14/17, p. 26). So far, baboons given genetically modified pig hearts have survived for about six months (SN Online: 12/5/18). Others are growing organs, creating a sterilized scaffold from an animal or cadaver organ and repopulating the scaffold with the organ recipient’s cells (SN: 5/18/13, p. 14). Pigs have survived several weeks after being implanted with lab-grown lungs (SN: 9/15/18, p. 8).

Maria Temming

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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