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Gene-edited pig kidney transplanted into first living human patient

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Gene-edited pig kidney transplanted into first living human patient

A genetically edited pig kidney has been successfully transplanted into a living patient for the first time. Reports indicate the man is doing well a few weeks on, raising hopes for a wider pool of donated organs in future.

Organ transplants can save and extend lives, but unfortunately there’s a constant shortage of human donors. In recent years, scientists have experimented with transplanting organs from pigs, since they’re about the same size as our own. They need a little tweaking first of course – the CRISPR gene editing tool is used to remove certain pig genes and insert human ones, as well as clearing out pig retroviruses that may cause rejection.

Two patients have previously received transplants of genetically edited pig hearts, although both died within a matter of months. Pig kidney transplants have proven promising, functioning in brain-dead patients for the duration of the experiments – up to two months.

But now, a living patient has received one for the first time. 62-year old Richard Slayman of Weymouth, Massachusetts, who has been living with end-stage kidney disease, received the gene edited pig kidney on Saturday, March 16 at Massachusetts General Hospital. As of last week, the patient was reported to be recovering well and was expected to be discharged soon.

“I saw it not only as a way to help me, but a way to provide hope for the thousands of people who need a transplant to survive,” Slayman said in a statement.

According to the Health Resources & Services Administration, there were almost 90,000 patients awaiting new kidneys in the US in 2023, while less than 16,000 received a transplant. Unfortunately, about 17 people die each day awaiting a transplant. The hope is that “xenotransplantation” – organ transplants from animals into humans – could eventually open up the historically limited donor pool, reducing wait times and ultimately saving lives. This latest study marks a major milestone towards making this technique viable.

The procedure was performed under the FDA’s Expanded Access Protocol (EAP), commonly known as compassionate use. Essentially, it’s a one-off allowance granted to patients with life-threatening illnesses who have exhausted all other treatment options, allowing them to try experimental procedures. Doctors and scientists will continue to monitor Slayman’s progress, which may help inform future trials of xenotransplantation.

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital

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