Scientists have been working on the possibility of animal-to-human transplants — or xenotransplantation – for decades now, with genetically modified pigs having been considered a source for materials like heart valves and skin grafts for human patients.
In a first, a pig’s kidney has been successfully transplanted into a human at the NYU Langone Health medical centre in New York City. This groundbreaking transplantation could eventually overcome the shortage of human organs for transplant, as per doctors.
A pig with artificially altered genes was used so that its tissues no longer had a sugar molecule, alpha-gal, which is known to trigger almost immediate rejection, as reported by Reuters.
The surgeons revealed that the recipient of this kidney was a brain-dead patient with symptoms of kidney dysfunction. The family of the patient had consented to the experiment before she was scheduled to be taken off life support.
The team attached the pig’s kidney to a pair of large blood vessels outside the body of the recipient under observation for two to three days. Surprisingly, the kidney filtered waste and produced urine without triggering rejection.
“Test results of the transplanted kidney’s function looked pretty normal. The kidney made the amount of urine that you would expect from a transplanted human kidney and there was no evidence of the vigorous, early rejection seen when unmodified pig kidneys are transplanted into non-human primates”, said the lead transplant surgeon Dr Robert Montgomery who performed the surgery last month.
Montgomery also said that the recipient’s abnormal creatinine level, which is a sign of an abnormal kidney, was back to normal levels after the transplant. The genetically modified pig was developed by United Therapeutics Corp’s (UTHR.O) Revivicor unit.
According to the United Network of Organ Sharing, nearly 107,000 people are on the waiting list for organ transplants, including more than 90,000 awaiting a kidney in the United States.
In December of last year, the US Food and Drug Administration approved it for use as food for people with a meat allergy and as a potential source of human therapeutics.