A 1st for medicine: New York City surgeons attach pig kidney to human

Surgeons at New York City-based NYU Langone Health Kidney said a kidney from a genetically engineered pig was attached to a human in September and seemed to function normally, marking a medical breakthrough, The New York Times reported Oct. 19. 

The kidney was from a pig that was genetically altered to grow an organ unlikely to be rejected by the human body. It was attached to blood vessels in the upper leg outside the abdomen of a brain-dead patient. The organ seemed to function normally "almost immediately," making urine and creatine, said Robert Montgomery, MD, director of NYU Langone's Transplant Institute who performed the procedure last month. 

“It was better than I think we even expected,” Dr. Montgomery told the Times. "It just looked like any transplant I’ve ever done from a living donor. A lot of kidneys from deceased people don’t work right away, and take days or weeks to start. This worked immediately."

The deceased patient was maintained on a ventilator and followed for 54 hours. No signs of organ rejection were detected during the two-day observation period. 

While the experimental procedure points to the potential for organs genetically grown in pigs to one day expand the donor organ pool for patients awaiting transplants, questions remain about the long-term prospects of such procedures. The case has not yet been peer reviewed and further research is needed. 

Still, "This is a huge breakthrough," said Dorry Segev, MD, PhD, professor of transplant surgery at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. 

"It's a big, big deal," he told the Times

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