Story at a glance

  • Researchers late last month successfully transplanted a pig’s kidney that was not immediately rejected onto a human for the first time.
  • The group obtained the kidney from a genetically engineered pig and, with the family’s permission, attached it to the blood vessels in the upper leg of a brain dead patient on a ventilator.
  • The kidney remained outside the abdomen and was covered in a protective shield for the entirety of the 54-hour study.

Researchers late last month successfully transplanted a pig’s kidney that was not immediately rejected onto a human for the first time.

New York University researchers performed what is called a xenotransplantation in a two-hour operation on Sept. 25. The group obtained the kidney from a genetically engineered pig and, with the family’s permission, attached it to the blood vessels in the upper leg of a brain dead patient on a ventilator, CBS reported.

The kidney remained outside the abdomen and was covered in a protective shield for the entirety of the 54-hour study, which has yet to be peer reviewed. 

Robert Montgomery, the surgical team leader, told CBS that the procedure was a “transformative moment “ and that it went  “even better than expected.” 

"The kidney turned a beautiful pink color and immediately urine started pouring out of the ureter," he said. "...There was complete silence for a few minutes while we were sort of taking in what we were looking at, which was incredible. It was a kidney that was immediately functioning."


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Montgomery explained to CBS the usual difficulties of transplanting an organ across species, saying “humans have preformed antibodies circulating in their blood that are directed towards most of them towards a single molecule that was lost during evolution from pig to man.” 

Montgomery added the successful operation was the result of using an organ from a genetically engineered pig that did not have an enzyme attacked by the human body. 

Researchers could conduct a transplant in a living person "in the next year or two," Montgomery told the outlet, adding that he thinks it “eventually will be perfected to the point where it'll be an alternative to a human organ."

More than 106,000 people in the U.S. are awaiting an organ transplant, according to The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.


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Published on Oct 20, 2021