Team of US Doctors Observes Pig-to-Human Kidney Transplant

Surgeons at the Langone Health University medical center in New York last month attached a pig kidney to a pair of large blood vessels in the body of a brain-dead woman who was kept alive on a ventilator.

Dr. Robert Montgomery, the surgeon who led the team that performed the experimental operation, said the pig’s kidneys worked as they expected.

“And all the lab tests and everything we did seemed normal, in the sense of what we expect to happen when we do an organ transplant. So there are two things. There is no evidence of strong initial resistance. And second, the kidneys are functioning properly,” he said.

Genetically modified pig kidneys appear healthy during transplant surgery at NYU Langone in New York, USA (Photo: Joe Carrotta for NYU Langone Health via REUTERS)

Genetically modified pig kidneys appear healthy during transplant surgery at NYU Langone in New York, USA (Photo: Joe Carrotta for NYU Langone Health via REUTERS)

“Well for 54 hours we studied the kidney, and this is the conclusion that we can draw. Now this is a series of simple conclusions. But the significant thing is removing or attaching animal kidneys to humans, I don’t think this can be underestimated,” added Montgomery.

Researchers have been working for decades to look at the possibility of using animal organs for transplantation, but are stymied how to prevent direct rejection by the human body.

Montgomery’s team has a theory that disabling the pig’s gene for the carbohydrate that triggers rejection – a sugar molecule called alpha-gal – will prevent the problem.

Montgomery said the kidney transplant experiment at New York University should pave the way for trials in end-stage renal failure patients, perhaps in the next 1-2 years. He himself is a recipient of a heart transplant.

The trial might test the approach as a short-term solution for critically ill patients until a human kidney becomes available, or as a permanent graft.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, more than 100,000 people in America are currently waiting for an organ transplant, including more than 90,000 people waiting for a kidney. The waiting period to get a kidney is on average between 3-5 years. [em/lt]

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