Surgeons in the United States have announced that a pig kidney they transplanted into the body of a brain-dead human patient has functioned normally for more than a month, a promising sign in the effort to address widespread organ donation needs.
Surgeons at the New York University Langone Transplant Institute said on Wednesday that the milestone is the longest a pig kidney had functioned in a person, albeit a deceased one.
“We have a genetically edited pig kidney surviving for over a month in a human,” institute director Robert Montgomery told reporters.
He stated that the results provided “further guarantees” for future experiments in live patients. The genetically altered pig kidney was altered to remove a gene which produces biomolecules the human immune system attacks and rejects.
“We have now collected more evidence that shows that at least for kidneys, eliminating the gene which triggers hyperacute rejecting may be sufficient — with immunosuppressive medications clinically approved — to manage the transplant successfully in a person, possibly in the long term,” Montgomery said.
Researchers have reached a new milestone in the future of organ transplantation: a modified pig kidney transplanted into a human has been successfully functioning for 32 consecutive days.
— NYU Langone Health (@nyulangone) August 16, 2023
Scientists hope that cross-species transplants could help deliver assistance to the many people who are waiting for potentially life-saving organs.
More than 103,000 people in the US currently need organ transplants, 88,000 of whom require kidneys. Each year, thousands of people are killed while they wait.
Wednesday’s breakthrough began with the transfer of a pig kidney into the body of Maurice “Mo” Miller, a man who had died suddenly at the age of 57 and whose body was donated to science by his family.
Researchers say that they will continue to monitor the experiment as it enters its second month.
Scientists hope to eventually progress far enough to use animal organs to save living humans, and cadavers donated for scientific research play an important role in research and experimentation.
“I struggled with it,” the sister of the deceased man, Mary Miller-Duffy, told The Associated Press about her decision to participate in the experiment. “I think this is what my brother would want. So I offered my brother to them.”
“He’s going to be in the medical books, and he will live on forever,” she said.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is mulling whether to allow small, selective studies of pig hearts and kidneys transferred into volunteer patients.
Successes like the NYU experiment could help move such efforts forward. The University of Alabama at Birmingham reported on Wednesday that two pig kidneys were functioning without any problems in a donated body.
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