The use of pigs as a source of cells and organs for transplantation has the potential to reduce the current chronic shortage of organs for the treatment of many end-stage diseases. The risk of transmission of infectious agents across the species barrier (zoonoses) has to be assessed. Many such agents can be eliminated from the pig herd. However, porcine endogenous retroviruses, which are carried within the pig genome, are not easily eliminated. They can infect primary and immortalized human cells in vitro, but to date no evidence for in vivo infection has been found in retrospective studies of humans exposed to viable porcine cells. Small-scale clinical trials using porcine cells for the treatment of Parkinson's and Huntington's disease are currently in progress. The prospective monitoring of these patients in conjunction with further research into the biology of this virus will help address safety issues.