Pig-to-human kidney transplant a success in latest organ donation

    Surgeons at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have, for the first time, successfully transplanted kidneys from a genetically altered pig into a human.

    The patient was a 57-year-old brain-dead man whose kidneys were removed to make room for two pig kidneys. It took about 23 minutes before they began to function, creating urine for three days, until the end of their study. However, one kidney worked better than the other, although there was no sign of either being rejected by the patient’s immune system.

    It’s the closest surgeons have come to the goal since September when at NYU Langone doctors attached a pig’s kidney from the outside to a brain-dead patient being supported by a ventilator. The kidney functioned normally for 54 hours, they reported — a breakthrough at the time.

    Doctors reported that the pair of pig kidneys began to function about 23 minutes after transplantation, and continued for three days until the study’s end.
    UAB / SWNS

    “This game-changing moment in the history of medicine represents a paradigm shift and a major milestone in the field of xenotransplantation, which is arguably the best solution to the organ shortage crisis,” said Dr. Jayme Locke, director of UAB’s Incompatible Kidney Transplant Program, in a statement.

    “This study provides knowledge that could not be generated in animal models and moves us closer to a future where organ supply meets the tremendous need.”

    Locke also explained that it’s not uncommon to use brain-dead patients for this purpose — because if it worked for them, it should work for healthy patients just as well. She told the Daily Mail, “The brain death environment is quite hostile, making assessment of kidney function difficult (e.g. urine output, creatinine clearance), and is not surprising given that even in human-to-human transplantation kidneys from brain-dead donors often … do not make urine for a week and take several more weeks to clear creatinine.”

    UAB surgeons
    University of Alabama at Birmingham surgeon Dr. Jayme Locke, director of their Incompatible Kidney Transplant Program, said she hopes to begin xenotransplantation with live humans within five years.
    UAB / SWNS

    And this is the latest development in the ongoing effort to establish animal-human organ transplantation, called xenotransplantation, and to meet the rising demand for viable organs. Last week, doctors at the University of Maryland transplanted a heart from another genetically modified pig into a 57-year-old patient with heart failure, who survived the procedure and is still currently under observation.

    UAB published a report of their undertaking, which took place Sept. 30, in the American Journal of Transplantation, marking the first time a peer-reviewed scientific journal has featured pig-to-human organ transplantation.

    Dr. Locke has said their procedure is more proof-of-concept that pig-to-human transplantation works. She hopes to launch a small clinical trial with live, conscious patients by the end of the year — and to be able to offer pig kidneys to her patients within five years.

    James Parsons with his motocycle
    Jim Parsons became brain-dead on Sept. 26 at the age of 57 due to injuries sustained during a motorcycle race.
    UAB / SWNS

    “Our goal is not to have a one-off, but to advance the field to help our patients,” said Locke, according to the New York Times. “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.”

    Their paper also acknowledged their transplant patient, Jim Parsons, who was a registered organ donor at the time of his death, and thanked his family for their consent. Parsons became brain-dead following a motorcycle accident during a race on Sept. 26.

    Jim Parsons and daughter, Ally
    Jim Parsons with daughter, Ally. He is also survived by his ex-wife, Julie O’Hara, and two more children, David and Cole.
    UAB / SWNS

    Parsons’ ex-wife, Julie O’Hara, with the support of their three children, Ally, David and Cole, and the Parsons family, told South West News Service, “Jim would have wanted to save as many people as he could with his death, and if he knew he could potentially save thousands and thousands of people by doing this, he would have had no hesitation.”

    She added, “Our dream is that no other person dies waiting for a kidney, and we know that Jim is very proud that his death could potentially bring so much hope to others.”

    Kidney disease is a leading cause of death in the US. Doctors perform more than 20,000 kidney transplants annually in the US, according to the United States Renal Data System, but the waiting list is much longer: According to the National Kidney Foundation, approximately 12 people die every day waiting for a kidney.


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