Breakthrough in Transplantation: Boston Doctors Perform World’s First Pig Kidney Transplant

World's First Pig Kidney Transplant
World's First Pig Kidney Transplant. Credit | Getty images

United States—Boston physicians became the first doctors in the world to perform a pig kidney transplant on a 62-year-old patient, an important step in humanizing animal organs.

Massachusetts General Hospital shared information on Thursday that the first transplanted pig kidney to a living person bears the features of a genetically modified one. Before that, pig kidneys had been temporarily given to a brain-dead donor. Furthermore, two men had transplants from pigs’ hearts, yet both did not live more than a few months, as reported by The Associated Press.

Patient’s Recovery

Weymouth, Massachusetts, resident Rick Slayman, 35, is doing fine after Saturday’s surgery. The doctors reported Thursday that he is likely to be discharged very soon.

Medical Advancement

Visual Representation of Kidney Transplant. Credit | Shutterstock

According to Dr. Tatsuo Kawai, the transplant surgeon, the team feels that the pig kidney can function just as well as a human one during this period. If it fails, Slayman may stay on the dialysis machine, according to kidney doctor Winfred Williams. Furthermore, he pointed out that the pig heart patients were truly sick, while Slayman was “actually quite robust.”

Slayman died in the hospital after her kidney transplant in 2018 and unfortunately had to go on dialysis when it showed signs of failure last year. When his doctors suggested him a pig kidney transplant due to dialysis complications that had been going on and contributed to constant procedures, he said in a hospital statement.

“I saw it not only as a way to help me but also as a way to provide hope for the thousands of people who need a transplant to survive,” said Slayman, a systems manager for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

The surgery lasted for four hours, and 15 people in the operating room were cheering when the transplanted kidney started making urine, doctors said at the news conference.

Dr. Parsia Vagefi, chief of surgical transplantation at UT Southwestern Medical Center, called the news “a big step forward.” Nevertheless, like the doctors in Boston, he stressed the need for studies that include more patients from multiple medical centers for the information to be disseminated.

The trial stands as the last step towards xenotransplantation, which is the medical procedure in which animals give human beings cells, tissues, or organs to replace those of the patients. For more than 50 years, this approach was not effective because the human immune system destroyed the foreign animal’s cells. A more recent approach is also to use breeding to get pigs that produce organs that are more like the organs in humans; it is hoped that by doing this, we can solve the shortage of donor organs.

Addressing Organ Shortage

In excess of 100,000 people are redundant on the national transplant list, and the majority are kidney patients, and a significant number of them pass before undergoing their transplant.

Genetic Editing

Pigs, for a long time, contributed to the lives of human beings, for example, with their skin grafts and transplanted heart valves. However, transplanting entire organs is obviously more difficult than using highly processed tissue. The kidney, which was transplanted to Slayman, was obtained via eGenesis of Cambridge, Massachusetts. With the help of genetic editing, undesirable swine genes were excluded, leaving only those similar to humans, as reported by The Associated Press.

Slayman’s case was an obstacle, as they reported. Before the first transplant, he was experiencing problems with dialysis, which he had to undergo dozens of times to undo the clots and restore the blood flow. The patient “was sinking deeper and deeper into depression the more his Dialysis was bringing him down.” At a time when he did say he simply could not continue like that, Williams, the kidney doctor, remarked, “I just can’t go on like this.”

Under the guidelines of “compassionate use,” the Food and Drug Administration granted special authorization for Slayman’s transplant.