Surgeons Transplant Pig Kidney Into Patient

In a groundbreaking operation, doctors in Boston were able to restore the health of a 62-year-old man by transplanting a kidney from a genetically modified pig. Patients with renal failure number in the hundreds of thousands, and this discovery gives them hope.

The patient’s condition is steadily improving, and the replacement kidney started generating urine shortly after last weekend’s surgery. Because Black people have a disproportionately high prevalence of end-stage renal illness, this operation may have extra relevance for people of color.

An unsolvable issue in the profession, the limited availability of kidney transplants for minority patients, might be addressed with a new source of kidneys. If genetically engineered animal kidneys can be donated on a large scale, dialysis will become obsolete, according to Dr. Leonardo V. Riella, medical director for kidney transplantation at Mass General. Mass General Brigham, the hospital’s parent organization, created the transplant program.

Dialysis removes waste products from the blood; more than 800,000 Americans go through this process because they have renal failure. There is a waiting list of more than 100,000 people who are hoping to have a kidney transplant from a deceased or living donor. Compared to white Americans, Black Americans have a threefold higher risk of end-stage renal disease. Chronic kidney disease affects tens of millions of Americans and can eventually cause organ failure.

Transplantation is the treatment of choice, but there is a severe scarcity of organs, and thousands of people die each year as they wait for a kidney. For many years, xenotransplantation—the practice of transferring an organ from an animal to a human—has been considered a way to increase kidney access. Unfortunately, problems that might be fatal arise when the human immune system rejects foreign tissue.

Recent developments in genetic engineering, including cloning and gene editing, have brought the prospect of xenotransplants one step closer to fruition. This opens the door to the possibility of modifying the genes of animals to render their organs more compatible and immune-compatible. The biotech firm eGenesis modified the pig that provided the kidney by removing three genes that might cause organ rejection and inserting seven genes from humans to make the organ more compatible with humans.