Pig kidney successfully transplanted into humans

Pig and Kidney Graphic (Christopher Elias)

With a title as strong as the one given, there should be some shock. However, rightly so, Dr Montgomery and his team at NYU Langone Health did. They successfully transplanted a pig kidney into a human, but what does that mean? The success of the procedure today raises many questions.

The procedure

Led by Dr. Montgomery, the procedure involved attaching the kidney to the blood vessels in the patient’s upper leg. The kidney used came from a genetically modified pig. Gene editing and cloning allow pigs to develop organs that are less likely to be rejected by a human. This was done by removing a pig gene that “encodes a sugar molecule” that elicits a rejection response in humans. The pig has been genetically modified by Revivicor and approved by the FDA as a human therapy.

As for the patient at hand, due to ethical dilemmas, the patient was brain dead. With permission from the patient’s family, after attaching the kidney, they monitored his progress for 54 hours. After that, it was called success, as the kidney took hold “almost immediately” and continued to function properly. What does this mean now? Are we going to start having people walking around with pork organs?

The future

Over 100,000 Americans are on the transplant list, and 90,240 of them need kidney transplants. With the success of this surgery, many of these people might have a way to get the organs they need. However, there are several different things to consider before assuming this is the magic bullet. First and foremost, the long term effects of xenotransplantation. Or the lack of knowledge we have of these effects. Moral and ethical dilemmas then arise. Are we really ready to raise millions of pigs a year just to harvest their organs for ourselves. In addition to the 100 million that we kill each year in the United States for food.

That aside, how far away are we from seeing this practice regularly? The truth is, no one has a definitive answer. Some say we can possibly see it in a few months, while others say this is just the first step of many to come. Whether it happens today, tomorrow or in the years to come, it is always a huge accomplishment and a leap forward in medicine.

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