In a breakthrough transplant, a US medical team has succeeded in temporarily attaching a pig's kidney to a person, news agency AFP reported. The surgery, carried out on September 25, is being considered as a "potential miracle" by the surgeon who led the procedure.
The surgery involved a genetically modified donor animal and a brain dead patient on a ventilator whose family had given permission for the two-day experiment, for the sake of advancing science, reported AFP.
"It did what it's supposed to do, which is remove waste and make urine," Robert Montgomery, director of the transplant institute at New York University (NYU) Langone, told AFP in an interview. The surgey went on for around two hours.
The team of doctors joined the kidney to blood vessels on the top of one of the patient's legs, so that they could observe it and take biopsy samples.
Montgomery told AFP that the patient wanted to be an organ donor but their organs were not suitable. However, the family "felt a sense of relief that this was another opportunity for donation," he said. The patient was taken off the ventilator and passed away following the 54-hour test.
After the surgery, it was found that the organ was able to reduce the level of the molecule creatinine, a key indicator of kidney health.
According to earlier research, kidneys from pigs are viable in nonhuman primates for up to a year. However, this was the first time that the same had been attempted with a human patient. The donor pig belonged to a herd that had undergone a genetic editing procedure to knock out a gene that produces a particular sugar.
"It is still a question what would happen three weeks from now, three months, three years," said Montgomery. "The only way we're really going to be able to answer that is to move this into a living human trial. But I think this is a really important intermediate step, which tells us that at least initially, things are probably going to be okay."
Robert Montgomery plans to submit the findings to a scientific journal in the next month, and is expecting a clinical trial in around a year or two. The outside experts welcomed the news but said they would like to see the peer-reviewed data before drawing firm conclusions.
The news comes amid a dire shortage of transplant organs. According to official US data, there are nearly 107,000 Americans awaiting an organ - 90,000 of whom need a kidney. Seventeen Americans die each day while waiting for an organ.
(With inputs from AFP)