NYU Langone Health medical centre’s surgeons have made a scientific breakthrough that may yield in the future a vast new supply of organs for severely ill patients, by successfully attaching a kidney grown in a genetically altered pig to a human patient after which the organ worked normally, Reuters reports.
The pig kidney was been transplanted without triggering immediate rejection by the recipient’s immune system though many questions remain unanswered about the long-term consequences of the transplant, which involved a brain-dead patient with symptoms of kidney dysfunction followed only for 54 hours.
Experts in the field said the procedure represented a milestone though scientists have been working on the possibility of xenotransplantation – animal-to-human transplants – for decades now.
Genetically modified pigs, that have long been considered a valuable source for materials like heart valves and skin grafts for human patients, was used in this case so that its tissues no longer had the alpha-gal sugar molecule, known to trigger almost immediate rejection.
The genetically modified pig was developed by United Therapeutics Corp’s (UTHR.O) Revivicor unit.
The pig’s kidney has been successfully attached to a pair of large blood vessels outside the recipient’s body under observation for two to three days and, surprisingly, it filtered waste and produced urine without triggering rejection.
The lead transplant surgeon Dr Robert Montgomery noted that the test results of the transplanted kidney’s function were pretty normal and showed no evidence of the strong, early rejection seen when non-human primates received unmodified pig kidneys.
Even the recipient’s abnormal creatinine level, a sign of an abnormal kidney function, went back to normal levels after the transplant.
Dr. Dorry Segev, professor of transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who was not involved in the research, said that scientists need to know more about the longevity of the organ, but stressed that the transplant operation was a huge breakthrough, especially in light of the fact that more than 90,000 people in the United States are on the waiting list for kidney transplant.