U.S. scientists have succeeded in making a genetically modified pig kidney work for humans, an achievement that reflects the hopes of many who are waiting for transplant surgery.
If subsequent tests confirm this success, pig farming will one day become a way to donate organs to the person in need of kidneys, lungs, heart and others.
On September 25, at Longon University Hospital in New York, surgery was performed on a human body using a genetically modified pig kidney to prevent kidney failure.
In the strict sense of the word the kidney was not fitted into the human body, but was attached to the blood vessels of the brain-infected patient, whose family approved the examination at the level of his upper leg. The process took about two hours.
Robert Montgomery, director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute, told AFP that the kidney “worked well during the two-and-a-half-day test.” He explained that “it played the role it was supposed to do … it produced urine”.
An attempt was made for such a transplant – to a pig’s kidney that had worked for a whole year – but none of the humans were included in the experiment.
As Robert Montgomery explained, this is a good reason why there are antibodies in the human body that attack a type of sugar that is naturally present in “all pig cells”.
But this time, the animal was genetically modified to not produce this sugar, and there is no “quick word for the kidney.”
About 107,000 Americans are currently on the waiting list for organ transplants, including 90,000 kidney transplants. Every day 17 people die in the United States who need alternative treatment.
“I think people, especially those who are waiting (…) will see this as a potential miracle,” Montgomery, who underwent heart transplant surgery three years ago.
But why was it chosen to take the kidney from another animal to the pig?
“Pigs are the right size,” Montgomery explained. “They grow up fast, and a lot of them have young children.” This is very acceptable as it is used in food.
Pig heart valves are already widely used in humans, and their skins can be used in alternative medicine to treat severe burns.
After 54 hours, the kidney was still working properly and the patient had not expelled it, but his ventilator was turned off and the test was over.
The professor agreed that these results were “limited”, especially due to the short duration of the experiment.
“It remains a question of what will happen after three weeks, three months and three years,” he said. But he considered it “However, this is a very important intermediate step, which shows that things can be good at first glance, at least initially.”
He thought large clinical trials could begin “within a year or two.”
Some experts cautiously conducted the experiment (which is expected to take place next month) as the detailed results of the study were not published in the journal Science.
“Nevertheless, the use of genetically modified pigs as a source of organ transplantation is an interesting step,” said Alan Archibald, a geneticist at the University of Edinburgh.
Transplantation of animal organs into humans is not new. Physicians have tried such an alternative since at least the 17th century, and the first experiments focused on animals.
In 1984, the heart of a monkey was transplanted into the body of a baby girl, but the little girl called “Baby Fay” survived only 20 days.
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