(Reuters) – For the first time, a pig kidney has been transplanted into a human without triggering immediate rejection by the recipient’s immune system, a potentially major advance that could eventually help alleviate a dire shortage of human organs for transplant.
The procedure done at NYU Langone Health in New York City involved the use of a pig whose genes had been altered so that its tissues no longer contained a molecule known to trigger almost immediate rejection.
The recipient was a brain-dead patient with signs of kidney dysfunction whose family consented to the experiment before she was due to be taken off of life support, researchers told Reuters.
For three days, the new kidney was attached to her blood vessels and maintained outside her body, giving researchers access to it.
Test results of the transplanted kidney’s function “looked pretty normal,” said transplant surgeon Dr Robert Montgomery, who led the study.
The kidney made “the amount of urine that you would expect” from a transplanted human kidney, he said, and there was no evidence of the vigorous, early rejection seen when unmodified pig kidneys are transplanted into non-human primates.
The recipient’s abnormal creatinine level – an indicator of poor kidney function – returned to normal after the transplant, Montgomery said.
In the United States, nearly 107,000 people are presently waiting for organ transplants, including more than 90,000 awaiting a kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Wait times for a kidney average three to five years.
The NYU kidney transplant experiment should pave the way for trials in patients with end-stage kidney failure, possibly in the next year or two, said Montgomery, himself a heart transplant recipient. Those trials might test the approach as a short-term solution for critically ill patients until a human kidney becomes available, or as a permanent graft.