Surgeons have successfully attached a functioning pig kidney to a human body for the first time, USA Today reported. The surgical team at NYU Langone Health attached the kidney to the blood vessels in the leg of a patient on a ventilator, and found the organ began working “almost immediately.”
They then observed the organ, behind a protective shield, for more than two days, and found it functioning normally with no signs of rejection. The success of the procedure opens the door to genetically modified pigs as a major source of organs for transplant patients in need, potentially saving lives if it can be implemented when human donors aren’t available.
The surgeons didn’t fully implant the organ into the body. However, getting it to function with proper connection to the patient’s circulatory system is the first major obstacle to overcome, Dr. Robert Montgomery, the director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute who performed the surgery, told the New York Times.
Successfully connecting the pig organ to the human blood vessels is promising sign that it will work in a transplant scenario, Montgomery said, and the team didn’t find immediate evidence of incompatibility. The procedure was performed in September, and the results haven’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The pig which provided the kidney was genetically modified to reduce the odds that the human recipient’s body would reject the organ. Pigs could help bridge the gap in need for organ donations. Research to modify pigs to serve as organ donors has been underway for more than half a decade,
with the goal of creating a source of living tissue for human patients in dire need of transplants. In the future, pigs could potential help bridge the gap in the need for transplant organs and the gaps in supply, and “potentially be a sustainable, renewable source of organs — the solar and wind of organ availability,” Montgomery told the Times.
However, it’s unlikely pigs will become commonplace organ donors for people anytime soon, experts told the Times. Further trials will be needed to determine donor matches and test for long-term organ rejection and other challenges that beset even human-to-human transplants.