Scientists have continuously explored xenotransplantation over the years for its potential as a viable solution to organ shortage in humans. The findings from a recent study on pig kidney xenotransplantation suggest we may be a step closer to perfecting the process.
Researchers from NYU Langone Transplant Institute have successfully transplanted a genetically modified pig kidney into the human body, with the transplanted kidney functioning fully for 61 days.
This is the longest we have seen a genetically engineered kidney function in the body of a human.
Xenotransplantation is the process of transplanting organs or tissues from an animal into humans. Just last year, a team of surgeons from the University of Maryland Medical Center transplanted a pig heart into a dying man. However, the heart failed after two months, leading to doubts about the suitability of pig organs for human use.
The team of surgeons made a similar attempt on July 14, 2023. They transplanted a functional kidney from a genetically engineered pig into a 58-year-old man who had been declared brain dead.
The donor pig was an engineered pig called GalSafe, which is a product of Revivicor Inc.
The team of surgeons who oversaw the transplant was led by Dr. Robert Montgomery and Dr. H. Leon Pachter, chair of the Institute’s Department of Surgery.
Dr. Montgomery and his team left the transplanted kidney in the patient for 61 days, leaving the body on a ventilator throughout the period. They observed that the kidney was fully functional with no issues whatsoever.
“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,” noted Dr. Montgomery.
“None of this would have been possible without the incredible support we received from the family of our deceased recipient. Thanks to them, we have been able to gain critical insight into xenotransplantation as a hopeful solution to the national organ shortage.”
The team concluded the study after the predetermined period of the experiment, and the body of patient was returned to the family in line with their wishes.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this procedure is that by “knocking out” the only gene responsible for immediate rejection, these pig organs have a chance to function within the human body.
The team also prevented delayed immune responses by fusing the pig’s thymus gland, which is responsible for updating its immune system, with its kidney. However, they encountered a mild rejection process that needed intensified immunosuppression medication to reverse it completely.
This study marks a significant step forward in xenotransplantation. The results open new doors for further research, with scientists hoping to analyze further the data collected over the past two months to determine cellular and molecular changes.
This insight is crucial for managing these organs in future studies and one day in living, breathing humans.
The numbers are staggering when it comes to organ transplant needs. Over 800,000 people are living with end-stage kidney disease in the United States.
The national organ waiting list currently has over 100,000 people on it, with about 90% of those in need of a kidney, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN).
“In order to create a sustainable unlimited supply of organs, we need to know how to manage pig organs transplanted into humans,” said Dr. Montgomery. “Testing them in decedents allows scientists to optimize the immunosuppression regimen and choice of gene edits without putting a living patient at risk.”
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