Man Receives Kidney from Pig

A man with end-stage kidney disease received a genetically modified kidney from a pig.  It’s the first transplant of its kind.

Rick Slayman, a 62-year-old man who lives with blood sugar concerns and high blood pressure, received a kidney from a human donor in 2018. However, that kidney began to fail after five years, and he has been on dialysis since 2023.

His doctors suggested that he could try a pig kidney. Mr. Slayman had difficulty with dialysis and suffered from many clots. He was considered a good candidate for this transplant.

I saw it not only as a way to help me, but a way to provide hope for the thousands of people who need a transplant to survive,” said Mr. Slayman.

The operating surgeon, Dr. Tatsuo Kawai, said that the pig organ looked exactly like a human kidney and “pinked up” as soon as it was stitched in. It began to function immediately.  

It was truly the most beautiful kidney I have ever seen,” said Dr. Kawai.

It wasn’t a normal pig kidney. It had 69 edits to the DNA to ensure the human body wouldn’t reject it. They had to remove animal sugars, retroviruses and other things that marked the kidney as different from a human one. Mr. Slayman also needs to take special anti-rejection meds that are different from the ones most patients take after organ transplants.

Many of the doctors who worked on the surgery were emotional afterward. Some of them have worked on the research for their whole careers. Kidneys are one of the most needed organs for transplant. But they are the organ that’s hardest to get. This could save thousands of lives every year. About 17 people die every day waiting on the kidney transplant list.

Our hope is that dialysis will become obsolete,” said Dr. Leonardo Riella, medical director of kidney transplantation at Mass General. “Dialysis will be like a ventilator for a patient with respiratory failure. You use it for a period of time, and hopefully if they’re healthy enough, they could have a more permanent solution, which could be a human transplant or a xenotransplant.”    

Our hope is that this transplant approach will offer a lifeline to millions of patients worldwide who are suffering from kidney failure,” said Kawai.  

Some believe that using the kidney on someone as ill as Mr. Slayman was unethical. He was allowed to receive this transplant by the FDA under a “compassionate use” program that gives desperate people more options. It’s not tested enough to be used on most people. In the past, these edited pig kidneys had only been tested in someone who was brain-dead. The person’s body didn’t reject the kidney.

If the FDA wants to explore the use of pig kidneys in humans, it would be better to authorize a phase I clinical trial so we can begin to gather more systematic evidence about this,” said Michael Gusmano, a bioethicist at Lehigh Univ.

Others have questioned the ethics of killing thousands of animals yearly to harvest their organs. While these ethical questions have to be considered, this could be a phenomenal medical breakthrough that could one day save lives. For now, we’re pleased Mr. Slayman is doing so well.

Banner image: Skip Class via Pexels

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