SCIENCE: American doctors implant genetically modified pig kidneys in a brain-dead patient.

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A group of sur­geons from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alaba­ma at Birm­ing­ham have proven that it is pos­si­ble to genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fy a pig so that its kid­neys can be used on human trans­plant patients. Doc­tors trans­plant­ed the kid­neys of a genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied pig into the abdomen of a brain-dead man and, as report­ed by The New York Times, the pro­ce­dure was described in an arti­cle pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Transplantation.

Accord­ing to the doc­tors, the pig’s kid­neys start­ed pro­duc­ing urine as ear­ly as 23 min­utes after the pro­ce­dure and con­tin­ued to do so for three days. The patien­t’s kid­neys were com­plete­ly removed and his body showed no signs of rejec­tion of the trans­plant­ed organs.

This is the lat­est in a series of devel­op­ments in which organs from genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied pigs have been suc­cess­ful­ly trans­plant­ed into humans. In late 2021, doc­tors at NYU Lan­gone Health attached a pig kid­ney to the blood ves­sels in the upper leg of a brain-dead patient. And, just days ago, doc­tors at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land School of Med­i­cine trans­plant­ed a pig’s heart into a liv­ing patient in an exper­i­men­tal procedure.

UAB sur­geons per­formed the pro­ce­dure with the con­sent of the fam­i­ly of the recip­i­ent, James Par­sons, who wished to be an organ donor. They now name this type of study after him. While the recip­i­ent was brain dead in this case, it’s a big step towards a clin­i­cal tri­al involv­ing liv­ing patients that they hope to start lat­er this year.

Dr Jayme Locke, the team’s chief sur­geon, said this was not a one-time expe­ri­ence and the hope was to “advance the field to help
patients”. The doc­tor who runs UAB’s Incom­pat­i­ble Kid­ney Trans­plant Pro­gram added, “What a won­der­ful day it will be when I can walk into the clin­ic and know I have a kid­ney for any­one wait­ing to see me.”

Accord­ing to data from the Organ Sup­ply and Trans­plan­ta­tion Net­work, there are cur­rent­ly 90,272 peo­ple on the wait­ing list for a kid­ney trans­plant. In addi­tion, approx­i­mate­ly 3,000 new patients are added to the organ wait­ing list each month. Dr Locke said ‘kid­ney fail­ure is intractable, seri­ous and hard-hit­ting’ and ‘needs a dras­tic solu­tion’. She hopes to be able to offer patients life-sav­ing pig kid­ney trans­plants with­in the next five years.

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