For the first time in the world, US surgeons have successfully transplanted a kidney taken from a pig into a brain-dead human patient. A very important step towards the use of animal organs in human transplants.
The team of NYU Langone Health performed the operation on a recently brain-dead woman, obtaining the consent of her family members. The purpose of the study, for lead surgeon Dr. Robert Montgomery, was "to provide the first evidence that promising results obtained in primates can also be obtained in humans".
Genetically modified organ of a pig
One of the main obstacles in making xenotransplantation possible was organ rejection by the host. To overcome this problem, the team used an organ from a genetically engineered pig to remove a sugar molecule known to play a significant role in rejection. Surgeons attached the kidney to large blood vessels outside the recipient and monitored it for two days.
"The transplanted kidney from the pig was in absolutely normal function," said Dr. Montgomery to the Guardian. "She did not have rejection, continuing to filter and produce urine." The team now hopes this first test will soon lead to transplants on live hosts.
Towards the farewell to waiting lists for transplants
Doctor Montgomery lives this with extreme satisfaction transplant organ from pig to man. He himself found himself in a position to receive a transplant: three years ago some colleagues gave him a new heart. He was lucky: many patients die while on a waiting list for a new organ.
"Today we are stuck in this paradigm: someone has to die for someone else to live," says the researcher. "And given the increasing demand for organs for transplantation, this paradigm will not work. What we need is a sustainable and renewable source of organs. And that's what xenotransplantation would provide."Robert Montgomery, NYU Langone Health
The pig has organs similar to human ones. Even similar in size. They are routinely bred for meat consumption, and this raises fewer ethical concerns among the public than, for example, organs taken from other primates. The team chose a pig kidney for transplant due to the promising results seen in primates, but they plan to test the method with other organs as well.
"If human xenograft works with pig kidney, it is likely that within a few years it will also work with a heart," says Sir Terence English, the surgeon who performed the UK's first successful heart transplant. It was 1979.