A new regulation allowing the restricted use of animal tissues and organs in medicine comes into effect in Switzerland this week. The regulation is expected to remain in place until a law on xenotransplantation comes into force in 2004.
Until now Switzerland has not allowed any transfer of animal organs to humans. Ethical, medical and legal considerations have all prevented the introduction of xenotransplantation.
Under the new ruling, it will be possible for animal tissues to be used in medicine, but only with the approval of the Federal Health Office.
Recipients of animal cells and tissues will also have to give their permission before the operation can go ahead.
The new ruling is being introduced in the face of a shortage of human organs for transplantation. It is likely to give hope to many people currently waiting for replacement organs.
Because of the risk of diseases being passed to humans, the use of animal tissues will be tightly regulated. Cells or other tissues from primates are excluded from use because of the greater risk of diseases being spread between two species which are closely related.
A number of clinical studies using animal cells have already been conducted in Switzerland and further experiments, particularly in the area of gene therapy, are now expected to follow.
swissinfo with agencies