NEW YORK (AP) — Surgeons transplanted a pig’s kidney into a brain-dead man and it worked normally for more than a month — a critical step toward a surgery the New York team eventually hopes to try on living patients .
Scientists across the country are racing to learn how to use animal organs to save human lives, and bodies donated for research provide a remarkable rehearsal.
The latest experiment announced Wednesday by NYU Langone Health marks the longest a pig kidney has functioned in a person, albeit a deceased person — and it’s not over yet. Researchers are set to track kidney performance for a second month.
“Is this organ really going to work like a human organ? So far it looks like,” said Dr. Robert Montgomery, director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute, told The Associated Press.
“It even looks better than a human kidney,” said Montgomery on July 14, as he replaced a deceased man’s kidney with a single kidney from a genetically modified pig — and watched it immediately begin producing urine.
The possibility that pig kidneys could one day alleviate a dire shortage of transplantable organs convinced the family of 57-year-old Maurice “Mo” Miller of upstate New York to donate his body for the experiment.
“I struggled with it,” his sister, Mary Miller-Duffy, told the AP. But he loved helping others and “I think this is what my brother would like. So I offered them to my brother.”
“He will be in the medical books and he will live on forever,” she added.
It is the latest in a series of developments that renew hope in animal-to-human transplants, or xenotransplantation, after decades of failure when people’s immune systems attacked the foreign tissue. What’s different this time: Pigs are genetically modified so that their organs better match the human body.
Last year, surgeons at the University of Maryland made history by transplanting a gene-edited pig heart into a dying man who was left with no other options. He survived for only two months before the organ failed for reasons not fully understood, but which provide lessons for future attempts.
Now the Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to allow some small but rigorous studies of pig heart or kidney transplants in volunteer patients.
And it’s critical to answer some remaining questions “in an environment where we’re not putting anyone’s life at risk,” said Montgomery, the NYU kidney transplant surgeon who also underwent his own heart transplant — and is well aware of the need for a new source of organs.
More than 100,000 patients are on the country’s transplant list, and thousands die each year while waiting.
Previously, NYU and a team from the University of Alabama at Birmingham had tested pig kidney transplants in deceased recipients for just two or three days. An NYU team had also transplanted pig hearts into donated bodies during three days of intensive testing.
But how do pig organs respond to a more common human immune attack that takes about a month to form? Only longer testing can tell.
The surgery itself isn’t all that different from the thousands he’s performed “but somewhere in the back of your mind is the sheer magnitude of what you’re doing … acknowledging that it could have a huge impact on the future of transplantation,” Montgomery said. .
The operation required careful timing. That morning, Drs. Adam Griesemer and Jeffrey Stern flew hundreds of miles to a facility where Virginia-based Revavicor Inc. houses genetically modified pigs – and retrieved kidneys that lacked a gene that would cause immediate destruction by the human immune system.
As they raced back to NYU, Montgomery was removing both kidneys from the donated body, so there would be no doubt that the soon-to-be-released pig version would work. One pig kidney was transplanted, the other was kept for comparison when the experiment ends.
“You’re always nervous,” Griesemer said. To see it kick off so quickly, “there was a lot of excitement and a sense of relief.”
Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin of the University of Maryland warns that it’s not clear how well a deceased body will mimic a living patient’s reactions to a pig organ — but that this research educates the public about xenotransplantation so “people won’t be shocked” when it happens. time to try again in the living room.
The Associated Press Health and Science division is supported by the Science and Educational Media Group of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.