Currently, 17 patients die each day in the United States while on the waiting list to receive lifesaving vital organ transplants. according to the Health Resources & Services Administration. Xenotransplantation gives hope for the possibility of an unlimited supply of organs that could relieve the supply shortage and save countless lives.
Xenotransplantation is any procedure that involves the transplantation, implantation or infusion into a human recipient of either (a) live cells, tissues, or organs from a nonhuman animal source, or (b) human body fluids, cells, tissues or organs that have had ex vivo contact with live nonhuman animal cells, tissues or organs.
According to STAT News, Xenotransplantation requires expertise from across many fields. You need genetic engineers to design pigs whose cells won’t trip a human’s immune’s system; animal scientists who understand the peculiarities of livestock species to raise them; immunologists to build tests that can predict if a patient will reject a pig organ and develop drugs to prevent that from happening over the long term; infectious disease experts to minimize the risks of pig viruses spilling over into human patients; and finally, a surgical team to do all the actual slicing and clipping and stitching. And one more thing: a decidedly non-sty-like home for the pigs.
Last October, in a 54-hour experiment, an NYU team hooked up a genetically modified pig kidney to a human brain-dead patient and the organ successfully filtered waste from the person’s body.
Recently, Surgeons at the University of Alabama at Birmingham announced they have achieved the first kidney transplant from a pig to a brain-dead patient, publishing their peer-reviewed findings online. For the first time, the pig kidneys transplanted were taken from pigs that had been genetically modified with 10 key gene edits that may make the kidneys suitable for transplant into humans.
“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 Jayme Locke, M.D., director of the Comprehensive Transplant Institute in UAB’s Department of Surgery and lead surgeon for the study. “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.”
The most promising advancement in this field is the University of Maryland Medical Center, which marks the first time a gene-edited pig has been used as an organ donor. Dave Bennett, 57, agreed to be the first to risk the experimental surgery.
In the nine-hour surgery, Doctors replaced his heart with one from a 1-year-old, 240-pound pig gene-edited and bred specifically for this purpose.
“This is a truly remarkable breakthrough,” said Robert Montgomery, a transplant surgeon at NYU Langone and a heart transplant patient himself. “I am thrilled by this news and the hope it gives to my family and other patients who will eventually be saved by this breakthrough.”