A pig kidney has been transplanted into a person by the United States surgeons for the first time without provoking rapid rejection by the recipient’s immune system, a potentially significant development that might ultimately help ease a critical scarcity of human organs for transplant.
The operation was carried out at NYU Langone Health in New York City using a pig whose genes had been changed such that its tissues no longer contained a chemical known to cause virtually instantaneous rejection.
According to Reuters, the receiver was a brain-dead woman with indications of renal disease whose family agreed to the experiment before she was scheduled to be taken off life support.
The replacement kidney was connected to her blood arteries and kept outside her body for three days, allowing researchers access to it.
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The function of the transplanted kidney was tested. Dr. Robert Montgomery, the study’s principal investigator, described the results as “quite standard.”
According to him, the kidney produced “the volume of urine that you would anticipate” from a transplanted human kidney, and there was no sign of the robust, early rejection found when unaltered pig kidneys are transplanted into nonhuman primates.
Montgomery stated that the recipient’s elevated creatinine level — an indication of impaired kidney function — recovered to normal following the transplant.
As per the United Network for Organ Sharing, approximately 107,000 people in the United States are now waiting for organ transplants, with more than 90,000 awaiting a kidney. The usual wait period for a kidney transplant is three to five years.
Researchers have been working on the prospect of utilising animal organs for transplantation for decades, but have been hindered by the question of how to prevent instant rejection by the human body.
Montgomery’s team hypothesised that removing the pig gene for a carbohydrate that causes rejection – a sugar molecule or glycan known as alpha-gal – would solve the problem.
United Therapeutics Corp’s (UTHR.O) Revivicor unit created the genetically engineered pig, called GalSafe. It was authorised by the US Meal and Drug Administration in December 2020 for use as a food for those who are allergic to meat as well as a possible source of human medicines.
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The FDA stated that medical goods derived from the pigs would still require particular FDA approval before being utilised in humans.
The present study used a single transplant and the kidney was only left in place for three days, so any future studies are likely to reveal additional hurdles that will need to be addressed, according to Montgomery. Patients with a low chance of getting a human kidney and a bad prognosis on dialysis would most likely be eligible.
“The death rate for a lot of those folks is as high as it is for some malignancies, and we don’t think twice about utilising new medications and performing new studies (with cancer patients) if it could give them a couple of months longer of life,” Montgomery said.