The critically acclaimed Netflix original series, House of Cards, is one of the most popular and most talked about shows in recent memory. The main character, President Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, is one of America’s favorite villains. His never ending arsenal of political schemes, subterfuge, and ruthless ambition has millions of viewers on the edge of their seats. But did you know that animal research played an indespensible role in saving his life in one of the show's many plot twists? It did, and the folks at the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) took some time to examine the role of animal research in President Underwood’s lifesaving liver transplant.
Liver transplants are the second most common organ transplant. Diseases like hepatitis, cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, and autoimmune diseases can destroy the liver’s function, making a transplant a patient’s only hope for survival. After years of careful animal research, immunosuppressive drugs developed in the 1980’s and 1990’s such as Cyclosporin A and Tacrolimus helped patients live longer after the transplant, giving recipients about a 60% chance of living for 15 years post-transplant. Sadly, at one time patients rarely survived longer than a year after the transplant. Rodents and other animal models are, right now in labs across the globe, involved in studies to improve these drugs and minimize their side effects.
Studies with rats and pigs are helping lengthen the viability time of donated organs. They have yielded new and better ways to preserve organs awaiting transport and to preserve them for transplant. Rats aided in the refinement of a process called supercooling, where organs are perfused with a concentrated sugar solution that prevents the formation of damaging ice crystals. Pig livers have shown that infusing donor organs with warm blood leads to improved retention of liver function. Both of these developments can extend storage time up to three days. This additional time will help those on donor lists get the organs they need anywhere on the globe.
To learn more about these innovations, please click here.
Thanks to the animal research highlighted by FBR in their recent posting, we can hope to see more of President Underwood in future seasons on House of Cards. Oh, and apologies for the spoiler!