Pigs are emerging as the most likely providers of genetically engineered organs and cells for the purpose of clinical xenotransplantation. Introduction of clinical trials has been delayed primarily by uncertainties regarding the risk of swine pathogen transmission that could harm the recipient. The concern that xenotransplantation carries the potential for a new epidemic has been highlighted by recent experiences with both bovine spongiform encephalopathy and human immunodeficiency diseases.
As clinical trials have been postponed and xenotransplantation teams are working actively to gather data for an estimation of the risk, this review provides the reader with a state-of-the-art estimation of the microbiological hazards related to xenotransplantation of porcine organs to man. Particular emphasis is put on viral and retroviral hazards. Both current diagnostic tools and those under development are described, along with breeding strategies to provide donor animals that would not put the recipient or the general population at risk