More than 104,000 people in our country are on the National Organ Transplant Waiting List, and every day, 17 people will die without the organ they need. That's why scientists have been working to find an alternative to save more lives, and have hit a new milestone in organ transplantation.
A genetically engineered kidney from a pig has been put into a human who donated his body to science.
“The pig kidney appears to replace all the important tasks that the human kidney manages," Dr. Robert Montgomery, the Director of NYU Langone Transplant Institute, said.
It was transplanted into a man declared brain dead but still alive because a ventilator was keeping his heart beating. Researchers at NYU said the pig kidney was functioning well 32 days after transplantation. Dr. Montgomery said that's the longest period a gene-edited pig kidney has functioned in a person.
"The one month kidney biopsies and kidney tests show no evidence of rejection and normal renal function in clearance of toxins," he said.
The pig’s thymus — which is a small gland that helps the immune system fight disease — was also transplanted to help protect the kidneys from being rejected by the human immune system.
Dr. Adam Griesemer, the Surgical Director of NYU Langone Pediatric Liver Transplant Program, says more work needs to be done, including studies in living human organ recipients to see if pig kidney transplants could be a bridge or a destination therapy for people with end-stage kidney disease.
“We're gaining critical evidence about how well pig kidneys work in the human environment. So, hopefully, this also give some assurance to the FDA regarding the safety of initiating phase one clinical trials," Dr. Griesemer said.
Researchers from the University of Alabama -Birmingham are also studying the use of non-human tissues to treat medical conditions in humans. In a research letter published in JAMA surgery, they found transplanted gene-edited pig kidneys could not only produce urine, but also sustain kidney function.