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Surgeons Successfully Transplant Pig-to-Human Kidneys



In the United States, surgeons have performed a pig kidney transplant on a human for the first time in history. According to the New York Times, the organ was genetically modified and was functioning normally in the patient’s body. The success of the procedure could open doors to alleviate the shortage of human organs for donation and help critically ill patients.

The procedure was performed at NYU Langone Health in New York and involved the use of modified genes from pigs so that their tissues no longer contain a molecule known to trigger almost immediate rejection. According to Reuters, the recipient was a brain-dead patient with signs of kidney dysfunction, whose family consented to the experience before she was removed from intensive care.

The operation was first reported by USA Today yesterday. The research has not yet been peer reviewed or published in a medical journal. As a result, many questions remain unanswered about the long-term consequences of the transplant, but experts in the field have said the procedure represents an important milestone.

kidney - Joe Carrotta at NYU Langone Health / Handout via REUTERS - Joe Carrotta at NYU Langone Health / Handout via REUTERS

A genetically modified pig kidney is cleaned and prepared for transplantation into a human at NYU Langone in New York, USA

Image: Joe Carrotta for NYU Langone Health / Document via REUTERS

“We need to know more about organ longevity. It’s a major breakthrough, ”Dr. Dorry Segev, professor of transplant surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research, told The New York Times.

For three days, the new kidney was attached to her blood vessels and kept outside her body, allowing researchers to access it. Kidney function test results from the transplant “looked pretty normal,” said transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led the study.

The kidney was making “the amount of urine you would expect” from a transplanted human kidney and there was no evidence of early rejection. The recipient’s abnormal creatinine level – an indicator of poor kidney function – returned to normal after the transplant, Montgomery said.

The genetically modified pork, dubbed GalSafe, was developed by the Revivicor unit of United Therapeutics Corp. (UTHR.O). It was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in December 2020 for use as a food for people with allergies to meat and as a potential source of human therapeutics. Other researchers are wondering if GalSafe pigs could be the source of other procedures, from heart valves to skin grafts for human patients.

Researchers have long sought to grow organs in pigs suitable for transplantation into humans. In addition to the kidneys, there are discussions about the possibility of including hearts, lungs and livers, which could save several lives while waiting for a transplant.

In the United States, nearly 107,000 people are currently awaiting organ transplants, including more than 90,000 awaiting a kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. The wait time for a kidney is on average three to five years.

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