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In a first, pig kidney successfully transplanted to human body

November 22, 2021

The surgical team at NYU Langone Health examines porcine kidney

Twelve Americans reportedly die every day waiting for organ transplants that never come. But what if we could grow transplantable organs in livestock and harvest them to save human lives?





That’s a vision brought closer to reality last week with the report of a pig kidney being transplanted into – or rather onto – a human being in a first-of-its-kind experiment doctors are calling a “huge breakthrough.” On Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, doctors at NYU Langone Health performed the first investigational transplantation of a genetically engineered, nonhuman kidney to a human body.

The news rocketed around the world but comes with plenty of caveats: the pig had been genetically engineered to prevent the human’s rejection of the organ; the organ functioned with no signs of rejection, but observation concluded at 54 hours; the kidney wasn’t actually in the patient’s body but rather stayed outside, attached by the blood vessels; and the human subject was deceased the entire time.

But it was still a huge breakthrough.

Organs: the new renewables?

The achievement is welcome news for more than 106,000 Americans on the organ transplant waiting lists, of whom more than 90,000 need kidneys. Genetically engineered pigs “could potentially be a sustainable, renewable source of organs — the solar and wind of organ availability,” Dr. Robert Montgomery, director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute and surgical team leader, told the New York Times.

NYU Langone Health reported that the kidney was attached to the deceased donor’s blood vessels in the upper leg, outside the abdomen, and covered with a protective shield for observation and kidney tissue sampling over the 54-hour period of study. Urine production and creatinine levels—key indicators of a properly functioning kidney – were normal and equivalent to what is seen from a human kidney transplant. Throughout the procedure and subsequent observation period, no signs of rejection were detected. The results of the study will be presented for peer review and subsequent publication.

Human biospecimens underlie transplant successes

Although we at iSpecimen were not involved, human biospecimens are important to medical researchers who investigate processes affecting transplantation success – for example, searching for biomarkers that provide clues about organ rejection or response to therapy, acceptance and treatments.

Although many research findings are called breakthroughs, the kidney transplant has certainly has earned the label by any standard. “This is a huge breakthrough,” Dr. Dorry Segev, a professor of transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who was not involved in the research, told the Times. “It’s a big, big deal.”

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