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Pig Kidney Transplants May Save Thousands Per Year

1 February 2022
Giulio Prisco


Researchers at University of Alabama have announced the publication of a paper related to pig kidney transplants. They say it's the first peer-reviewed research paper outlining the successful transplant of genetically modified, clinical-grade pig kidneys. The kidneys were placed in a brain-dead human individual, replacing the recipient's native kidneys.

The paper is published in American Journal of Transplantation. It reports that the study recipient had two genetically modified pig kidneys transplanted in his abdomen after his native kidneys were removed.

The kidneys were taken from a pig that had been genetically modified with 10 key gene edits that may make the kidneys suitable for transplant into humans. The transplanted kidneys filtered blood and produced urine. And, importantly, they were not immediately rejected. The kidneys remained viable until the study was ended, 77 hours after transplant.

According to the researchers, these positive results demonstrate the long-term viability of xenotransplantation. That's transplantation of organs from non-human animals to human patients. The results also show how such a transplant might work in the real world. And they show how it could address the worldwide organ shortage crisis.

"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 lead surgeon Jayme Locke in a press release issued by University of Alabama. "We have bridged critical knowledge gaps and obtained the safety and feasibility data necessary to begin a clinical trial in living humans with end-stage kidney failure disease."

More than 800,000 patients in the United States are living with kidney failure. And far too few human organs are available for transplantation.

Most patients with kidney failure never make it to the waiting list for transplantation. The wait for a deceased donor kidney can be as long as five years. And, in many states, it is closer to ten years. Almost 5,000 people per year die waiting on a kidney transplant.

Alabama has one of the highest rates of chronic kidney disease in the nation. It's 2,348 cases per million residents, New York Times reports.

"Our study demonstrates that major barriers to human xenotransplantation have been surmounted,” added Locke.

This study was supported by the biotechnology company United Therapeutics (UT). The company was founded by long term xenotransplantation advocate Martine Rothblatt.

“It is enormously gratifying to see these xenotransplantation breakthroughs achieved after working on this for over twenty years,” said Rothblatt in a press release issued by UT. “At UT, we are relentlessly pursuing our goal of producing an unlimited supply of transplantable organs from xenotransplantation, regenerative medicine, and 3D bioprinting technology, and we expect to make additional breakthrough announcements in each of these fields in the coming years. Indeed, we have commenced work on a large clinical-quality organ facility.”

The researchers are designing a small clinical trial with live patients. And they hope that the trial could begin by the end of the year, said Locke as reported by New York Times.

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