US surgeons implant genetically altered pig kidneys in a brain-dead patient

A group of surgeons from the University of Alabama at Birmingham has proven that it’s possible to genetically alter a pig so that its kidneys can be used on human transplant patients. The doctors have transplanted kidneys from a genetically altered pig into the abdomen of a brain-dead man, and as The New York Times has reported, the procedure was described in a paper published in the American Journal of Transplantation. 

According to the doctors, the kidneys from the pig started producing urine as soon as 23 minutes after the procedure and continued to do so for three days. The patient’s kidneys were fully removed, and his body didn’t show signs of rejecting the transplanted organs. This is the latest in a series of developments wherein organs from genetically altered pigs were successfully transplanted into humans. In late 2021, NYU Langone Health doctors attached a pig kidney onto the blood vessels of a brain-dead patient’s upper leg. And, just a few days ago, doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine transplanted a pig’s heart into a live patient as part of an experimental procedure.

The UAB surgeons performed the procedure with consent from the family of the recipient, James Parsons, who wanted to be an organ donor. They’re now naming this type of study after him. While the recipient was brain dead in this case, it’s a big step toward a clinical trial involving live patients that they’re hoping would start later this year. Dr. Jayme Locke, the team’s lead surgeon, said this wasn’t a one-off experiment, and that the hope is to “advance the field to help… patients.” The doctor who serves as director to UAB’s Incompatible Kidney Transplant Program added: “What a wonderful day it will be when I can walk into clinic and know I have a kidney for everyone waiting to see me.”

Based on data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, there are currently 90,272 people on the waiting list for kidney transplant. In addition, around 3,000 new patients are added to the waiting list for the organ each month. Dr. Locke said “kidney failure is refractory, severe and impactful” and that “it needs a radical solution.” She hopes to be able to offer life-saving pig kidney transplants to patients within the next five years.

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