Updated on: Thursday, October 21, 2021, 11:22 AM IST

'Potential miracle': Pig kidney transplanted into brain-dead human works, surgeon hails breakthrough

The procedure was carried out on a brain dead patient on ventilator whose kidneys showed signs of dysfunction after the family approved for the two-day experiment for the sake of advancement in science
Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels


Washington: A medical team in the USA successfully attached a pig's kidney to a person for temporary basis, according to a report by NDTV, in transplant breakthrough that the surgeon who spearheaded the procedure termed as a "potential miracle."

The surgery, that took place on September 25, involved use of a genetically altered pig whose genes had been modified in a way that its tissues no longer contained a molecule known to prompt an almost immediate rejection. The procedure was carried out on a brain dead patient on ventilator whose kidneys showed signs of dysfunction after the family approved for the two-day experiment for the sake of advancement in science.

"It did what it's supposed to do, which is remove waste and make urine," Robert Montgomery, director of the transplant institute at New York University (NYU) Langone, told AFP in an interview.

Critically, the kidney was able to decrease the level of the molecule creatinine, a key indicator of kidney health that was increased in the patient before the transplant.

Montgomery carried out the procedure with several colleagues over the period of around two hours as they connected the kidney with blood vessels on the top of one of the subject's legs, in order for them to observe it and take biopsy samples.

The patient had wished to be an organ donor and their family was initially disheartened when told them the patient's organs were unsuitable, said Montgomery.

However, the family "felt a sense of relief that this was another opportunity for donation," he added. The patient was removed from the ventilator and passed away after the 54-hour test.

Organ Shortage:

The news comes amid severe organ shortage in the United States, with around 107,000 people currently waiting for organ transplants, including more than 90,000 awaiting a kidney with wait times for the organ averaging three-to-five years, as per the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Researches have been carried out for decades on the possibility of using animal organs for transplants, but have been hindered over the issue of as to how to prevent immediate rejection by the human body.

Montgomery’s team theorized that knocking out the pig gene for a carbohydrate that triggers rejection – a sugar molecule, or glycan, called alpha-gal – would prevent the problem.

GalSafe, the genetically modified pig was developed by United Therapeutics Corp’s Revivicor unit. It received approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2020, for its use as food for people having a meat allergy and as a potential source of human therapeutics.

Significant Intermediate Step:

This kidney transplant experiment should lead the way for trials in patients enduring end-stage kidney failure, possibly in the next year or two, said Montgomery who is himself a heart transplant recipient.

Those trials might gauge the procedure as a short-term relief for critically ill patients until a human kidney becomes available, or as a permanent graft. The recent experiment featured a single transplant, and the organ was kept in place for only three days, hence any future trials are expected to reveal new barriers that will need to be overcome, the surgeon said.

Patients participating in the trails would probably be the ones with low chances of receiving a human kidney and a poor prognosis on dialysis.

“For a lot of those people, the mortality rate is as high as it is for some cancers, and we don’t think twice about using new drugs and doing new trials (in cancer patients) when it might give them a couple of months more of life,” Montgomery told Reuters.

The researchers worked with medical ethicists, religious and legal experts to vet the concept prior to asking a family for temporary access to a brain-dead patient, Montgomery said

With Agencies Input

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Published on: Thursday, October 21, 2021, 11:22 AM IST