An American newspaper, reported that surgeons in New York had successfully transplanted a pig kidney into a human subject. The organ was successfully attached for three days in an experimental procedure on a brain-dead patient. It was the culmination of years of work; scientists have dreamed of xenotransplantation, in which organs from animals are put into humans, for decades. The successful transplant shows both how far science has come in this process, and how far it still has to go.
Researchers have long sought to grow organs in pigs that are suitable for transplantation into humans. Technologies like cloning and genetic engineering have brought that vision closer to reality in recent years, but testing these experimental organs in humans has presented daunting ethical questions.
So surgeons at N.Y.U. Langone Health took an astonishing step: With the family’s consent, they attached the pig’s kidney to a brain-dead patient who was kept alive on a ventilator, and then followed the body’s response while taking measures of the kidney’s function. It is the first operation of its kind.
The researchers tracked the results for just 54 hours, and many questions remained to be answered about the long-term consequences of such an operation. The procedure will not be available to patients any time soon, as there are significant medical and regulatory hurdles to overcome.
“This is a huge breakthrough,” said Dr. Dorry Segev, a professor of transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who was not involved in the research. “It’s a big, big deal.”