In a medical breakthrough, NYU Langone surgeons successfully transplanted a pig kidney into a brain-dead man who has now survived with the organ for over a month.
“This represents the longest period of time that a genetically engineered pig kidney has worked in a human and the latest step towards an alternative, sustainable supply of organs for transplantation.” according to a press release from NYU Langone.
The surgical team also gave special thanks to Mary Miller Duffy, sister of brain-dead man Maurice Miller, who allowed her brother’s body to be used in the innovative procedure.
“I want to start by acknowledging how grateful we all are for Mary sitting next to me,” said Dr. Robert Montgomery at a news presentation attended by The Post.
“At a time of deep sorrow, she found a way to help her brother fulfill his desire to bring a gift to humanity at the time of his death,” added Montgomery, chief surgeon and chair of the NYU Langone Department of Surgery.
Research on the first-of-its-kind operation, which took place on July 14, will continue until mid-September as doctors monitor how long the animal’s kidney in the human body continues to function properly after 32 days.
The pig kidneys only had “a genetic change and [is] without experimental drugs or devices,” says Montgomery.
In xenotransplantation, the medical term for a cross-species organ transplant, Montgomery and his team had to develop a unique solution for the patient’s body to avoid “hyperacute rejection” of the animal organ once it was connected to the 57-year-old man’s circulatory system .
It did this by “turning off” the alpha-gal gene, which doctors modified to prevent male rejection.
Additionally, the pig’s thymus gland – which communicates with its immune system – has been “embedded under the outer layer of the kidney to ward off novel, delayed immune responses.”
“The combination of modifications has been shown to prevent organ rejection while maintaining kidney function,” according to the NYU.
This potentially groundbreaking surgery, part of a larger study on the subject, could one day prove to be an effective treatment for the more than 103,000 people in the US who need organ transplants
“There just aren’t enough organs available for everyone who needs one,” said Montgomery, who had a heart transplant five years ago. “Too many people are dying due to a lack of available organs and I strongly believe that xenotransplantation is a viable way to change that.”
Montgomery’s recent success not only reduced the number of genetic modifications required from 10 to one, but could also make surgery a viable option for those in need for years to come.
“We have now accumulated further evidence showing that, at least in the kidneys, simply eliminating the gene that causes hyperacute rejection, together with clinically approved immunosuppressants, may be sufficient to successfully complete transplantation in a human and achieve optimal performance.” achieve – possibly in the…”long term,” Montgomery said.
“We believe that using a pig that has already been deemed safe by the FDA, combined with what we have found so far in our xenotransplantation research, brings us closer to the clinical trial phase,” added Montgomery.
“We know this has the potential to save thousands of lives, but we want to ensure the highest level of safety and care as it moves forward.”