Pig Kidney Transplanted Into a Living Human for the First Time

Surgeons from Massachusetts General Hospital successfully transplanted a genetically edited pig kidney into a 62-year-old man with end-stage kidney disease.

On March 16, surgeons from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), a founding member of the Mass General Brigham health care system, completed the world's first pig kidney transplant into a living human recipient.

The transplanted kidney came from a pig that scientists genetically edited using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to remove potentially harmful pig genes while introducing specific human genes to boost its compatibility with the patient. Scientists also inactivated viruses in the pig's genome to prevent infection.

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According to an MGH press release, the patient who received the pig kidney, Mr. Richard 'Rick' Slayman of Weymouth, Massachusetts, is recovering well and is expected to be discharged soon. In addition to the pig kidney, Slayman received infusions of two new immunosuppressant drugs — tegoprubart and ravulizumab — to help prevent organ rejection.

Surgeons were able to perform the procedure under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Expanded Access Protocol, also referred to as compassionate use. Expanded access allows doctors to utilize investigational medical products in patients with life-threatening conditions without suitable treatment alternatives.

Slayman opted for the first-ever pig kidney transplant procedure after a kidney he received in 2018 from a human donor began to fail. After resuming dialysis, Slayman started to experience complications that severely impacted his quality of life.

According to the press release, Slayman said, "When my transplanted kidney began failing in 2023, I again trusted my care team at MGH to meet my goals of not just improving my quality of life but extending it. My nephrologist, Dr. Winfred Williams M.D. and the Transplant Center team suggested a pig kidney transplant, carefully explaining the pros and cons of this procedure. I saw it not only as a way to help me, but a way to provide hope for the thousands of people who need a transplant to survive."

The groundbreaking surgery follows years of extensive xenotransplantation research conducted by MGH and eGenesis, which provided the genetically edited pig kidney. Xenotransplantation involves transplanting organs from one species to another, a potential solution to the ongoing organ and tissue shortage impacting patients worldwide.

Easing an organ transplant shortage

Currently, 103,223 people are awaiting transplants in the United States, and 17 die every day while waiting for a suitable organ. Moreover, nearly 89,000 of the individuals awaiting transplants need a kidney.

"Seventy years after the first kidney transplant and six decades following the advent of immunosuppressive medications, we stand on the brink of a monumental breakthrough in transplantation," Leonardo V. Riella, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Director for Kidney Transplantation, said in the press release.

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Riella explained that at MGH alone, there are over 1,400 patients on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. Due to the long waiting time on dialysis, some of these patients will die or become too ill to undergo transplant surgery.

"I am firmly convinced that xenotransplantation represents a promising solution to the organ shortage crisis," Riella said.

In July 2023, surgeons at NYU Langone Transplant Institute performed a pig kidney transplant into a donated human body. The brain-dead man was kept on a ventilator for two months before surgeons removed the kidney. It was the longest that a pig kidney remained functional in a human.

Surgeons have also transplanted genetically modified pig hearts into human patients. However, the patients died six weeks to two months after surgery due to organ rejection and complications related to pig viruses.

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