One of the biggest challenges facing people who have a disease severe enough to require an organ transplant is finding a donor organ. For the first time ever, surgeons have successfully transplanted a kidney from a pig into a human without immediate rejection by the immune system. This is hailed as a major advance with the potential to alleviate the shortage of available donor organs from humans for transplant.
The transplant was performed at NYU Langone Health in New York City. The pig who donated the kidney had been genetically altered to eliminate a gene known to trigger almost immediate rejection in humans. The human the pig kidney was transplanted into was brain-dead.
The recipient’s family had consented to allow the medical team to transplant the kidney before she was taken off of life support. However, the recipient did show signs of kidney dysfunction. The brain-dead recipient had the pig kidney connected to her blood vessels and maintained outside of her body for three days allowing researchers access to the kidney for study.
The researchers conducted multiple tests to determine the functionality of the transplanted kidney. One of the surgeons on the transplant team, Dr. Robert Montgomery, study lead, said the function of the kidney “looks pretty normal.” Montgomery said the transplanted pig kidney made the amount of urine expected from a transplanted human kidney. In addition, there was no sign of the vigorous early rejection seen when unmodified pig kidneys were transplanted into non-human primates.
Researchers noted the abnormal creatine levels, which is an indication of poor kidney function, returned to normal after the pig kidney was transplanted. If medical researchers can develop a way that allows kidneys from pigs to be transplanted into humans, it would be a significant advance for the nearly 107,000 people currently waiting for organ transplants. Of that number, more than 90,000 are waiting for kidneys.