Pig Kidney Successfully Transplanted Into a Human for the First Time: A 'Transformative Moment'

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Operating room staff performing hospital surgery
Operating room staff performing hospital surgery

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A pig kidney has been successfully transplanted into a human for the first time without rejection, experts have announced.

On Sept. 25, researchers at New York University watched as a kidney from a genetically engineered pig functioned while attached to the body of a brain-dead human, Reuters reported Wednesday.

According to the outlet, the woman had signs of kidney dysfunction and was due to be taken off life support before her family agreed to the procedure. The kidney was attached to her blood vessels in her upper leg and kept outside her abdomen for three days so researchers could study it, per CBS News. During that time, it was covered in a protective shield.

Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led the surgical team for the operation at NYU Langone Health, said in a statement that the procedure was a "transformative moment in organ transplantation."

In an interview with CBS Evening News, Montgomery said he thinks researchers could do a similar transplant on a living human "in the next year or two."

Hands of operating room staff performing surgery
Hands of operating room staff performing surgery

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"I think it will be something that, you know, eventually will be perfected to the point where it'll be an alternative to a human organ," the doctor told the outlet, adding, "I have hope."

Up until this point, a single molecule was one of the biggest roadblocks for experts researching the possible use of animal organs in humans, Montgomery said. As the doctor explained to CBS, animal organs like a pig kidney are typically rejected by the human body when antibodies in people attack the unfamiliar molecule.

This time, however, researchers used an organ from a pig genetically engineered without the molecule in question — and it worked.

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Montgomery said the kidney "turned a beautiful pink color" and urine "immediately" began passing from the kidney to the bladder following the xenotransplantation, leaving researchers in the room stunned.

"There was complete silence for a few minutes while we were sort of taking in what we were looking at, which was incredible," he told CBS Evening News. "It was a kidney that was immediately functioning."

The university said in a statement that the body was producing "normal and equivalent to what is seen from a human kidney transplant."

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Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics — the parent company of Revivicor, which engineered the pig and its 100 cousins at a facility in Iowa — lauded the achievement in a statement addressing the breakthrough, per NPR.

"This is an important step forward in realizing the promise of xenotransplantation, which will save thousands of lives each year in the not-too-distant future," said Rothblatt.

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