Pig Kidney Successfully Transplanted Into Human

Graphic of pig and kidney (Christopher Elias)

With a title as strong as the one given there should be some shock. However, not mistitled, Dr. Montgomery and his team at N.Y.U Langone Health have done it. They have successfully transplanted a pig kidney into a human, but what does this mean? The success of the procedure now brings up many questions.

The Procedure

Conducted by Dr. Montgomery the procedure involved attaching the kidney to the blood vessels in the upper leg of the patient. The kidney in use came from a genetically altered pig. Using gene editing and cloning allows for the pig (s) to grow 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 causes a human rejection response. The pig was genetically engineered by Revivicor and FDA approved as human therapy. 

When it comes to the patient at hand, due to ethical dilemmas, the patient was brain dead. Through the permission given by the patient’s family, after attaching the kidney they monitored its progress for 54 hours. After which it was called a success seeing as the kidney took “almost immediately” and continued to function properly. What does this mean now? Will we start having people walking around with pig organs?

The Future

Over 100,000 Americans are on the transplant list and 90,240 of those people need a kidney transplant. With the success of this surgery there might be a way for many of these people to get the organs they need. However, there are multiple different things to take into consideration before assuming this is the magic fix. First and foremost is the long term effects of a xenotransplantation. Or the lack of knowledge that we have of those effects. Then moral and ethical dilemmas come into the question. Are we truly willing to raise millions of pigs a year just to harvest their organs for ourselves. On top of the 100 million we kill annually in the U.S. for food.

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