The United States surgeons have announced that they concluded their experiment after a groundbreaking 61 days, where they transplanted a genetically modified pig kidney into a brain-dead patient, marking a significant milestone in the field of organ transplantation.
This new experimental procedure is part of a rapidly developing area of study focused on advancing cross-species transplants. The technique is primarily being tested on donated bodies for scientific purposes.
In the United States, there are over 103,000 individuals on the organ transplant waiting list, with 88,000 of them specifically in need of kidneys.
“We have learned a great deal throughout these past two months of close observation and analysis, and there is great reason to be hopeful for the future,” said Robert Montgomery, director of the New York University Langone Transplant Institute, who led the surgery in July.
This was the fifth xenotransplant performed by Montgomery, who previously conducted the world’s first genetically modified pig kidney transplant in September 2021.
Tissue collected during the study showed signs of a mild rejection process, which led to a need for increased immunosuppression medication.
By “knocking out” the gene responsible for a biomolecule called alpha-gal — a prime target for roving human antibodies — the NYU Langone team was able to stop immediate rejection.
The donor pig in this experiment came from a herd cultivated by Virginia-based biotech company Revivicor.
The Food and Drug Administration has granted approval for the herd to serve as a meat source for individuals with alpha-gal molecule hypersensitivity, which is caused by certain tick bites. These pigs are bred rather than cloned, making the process more scalable.
In the past, early xenotransplantation research centered around using organs from primates. For instance, in 1984, a baboon’s heart was transplanted into a newborn called “Baby Fae,” but unfortunately, she only survived for 20 days.
Nowadays, the focus has shifted to pigs as potential donors for humans. Pigs are considered suitable due to their organ size, rapid growth, large litters, and the fact that they are already raised for food.
In January 2022, surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical School achieved a groundbreaking accomplishment by performing the first-ever pig-to-human heart transplant on a living patient.
Unfortunately, the patient passed away two months after the procedure, and it was later determined that the presence of porcine cytomegalovirus in the organ was to blame.
Chinese scientists recently published a paper demonstrating their achievement of creating hybrid pig-human kidneys in pig embryos. This alternative approach has the potential to address organ donation shortages in the future.
However, the development has raised ethical concerns, particularly because human cells were discovered in the pigs’ brains, according to experts.