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.