Results of pig liver transplant to human 'profound,' surgeon says

Last month, doctors at NYU Langone Health in New York performed the first successful xenotransplantation of a genetically engineered pig kidney to a human.

"The kidney was obtained from a pig that had undergone gene editing to knock out a sugar molecule that elicits a devastating immune response in humans," Dr. Robert Montgomery, the director of NYU Langone's Transplant Institute, told reporters. 

The surgery was performed on a brain-dead patient who had signs of kidney dysfunction. Her family consented to the experiment before she was taken off life support. The organ was placed outside her body while attached to her blood vessels.

"The kidney began functioning and making large amounts of urine within minutes of being connected to the decedent blood vessels," Montgomery said.

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The kidney remained pink and well perfused for 54 hours, showing no evidence of rejection. "What was profound about these findings is that the pig kidney functioned just like a human kidney transplant," he said. 

A pig kidney was used because pig organs are very similar in size to ours, Montgomery said. 

"If human organs are imaged as the fossil fuel, pig organs are the wind and solar — sustainable and unlimited," Montgomery said.

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Right now, more than 100,000 Americans are on transplant waiting lists. More than 90,000 need a kidney. However, it could take some time for a procedure like this to be approved, because it would need significant medical and regulatory approval. 

"No one should die waiting," Montgomery said.