Surgeons in Alabama have successfully transplanted a pair of kidneys from a genetically modified pig into the body of a brain-dead man.
The surgical feat, accomplished at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is the latest in a series of breakthrough operations using pig organs. Earlier this month, a pig’s heart was transplanted into a live man in Maryland, tentatively saving his life.
Researchers at UAB hope to replicate the kidney experiment on future patients in need of organs.
“The organ shortage is in fact an unmitigated crisis and we’ve never had a real solution to it,” Dr Jayme Locke, director of the university’s Incompatible Kidney Transplant Program, told the Associated Press.
The recipient in this case was Jim Parsons, a 57-year-old Alabama man who was declared brain-dead after a tragic dirt bike accident. Relatives of Mr Parson, a registered organ donor, said he would have been delighted to take part in the experiment.
“He would be thrilled so many people stand to benefit,” his sister, Amy Parsons Vaughn, told The New York Times. “So many people need a kidney.”
Dr Locke said the procedure followed all the protocols of a human-to-human transplant, shedding light on key safety questions. And the pig organs were not rejected – after just 23 minutes of being sewn into Mr Parsons’ body, she says, the transplanted kidneys began functioning normally. They kept going for three days, after which Mr Parsons was taken off life support.
Dr Locke hopes to begin a clinical trial of the procedure with live patients later this year.
“Our goal is not to have a one-off, but to advance the field to help our patients,” she told the Times.
Another benefit of the transplant, she said, is that it proved a brain-dead human can serve as an effective test subject for experimental surgeries.
But the biggest legacy of all could be for future organ recipients. According to AP, there are more than 100,000 Americans on the national waiting list for organ donations. Thousands die every year before getting one.
For those patients, UAB’s experiment offers a sense of hope.
“What a wonderful day it will be when I can walk into a clinic and know I have a kidney for everyone waiting to see me,” Dr Locke said.
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