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Pig's kidney successfully transplanted in human body at New York Institute

In a major breakthrough in the biotechnology of xenotransplant, a genetically modified “GalSafe” pig's kidney was successfully transplanted in a brain-dead patient at New York's Langone Transplant Institute by a team of doctors led by internationally renowned surgeon Dr Robert Montgomery. This leap forward in medical research and surgery will potentially revolutionise the world's healthcare system in the near future.

NEW YORK, Oct 21: In a major breakthrough in medical science, doctors have successfully transplanted a pig kidney in a human being. “It had absolutely normal function,” said Dr Robert Montgomery, internationally renowned surgeon and director of NYU Langone Transplant Institute who led the operation at the NYU.

The doctors attached the pig’s kidney to a brain-dead patient who was kept alive on a life support system. The experiment was approved by the patient’s family. The surgery took place in September last. USA Today was the first to publish the transplant.

In the procedure, a single kidney was attached to a pair of blood vessels externally to the patient’s body to enable observation. After 54 hours, there were no signs of rejection, and the kidney was functioning well, said the doctors.

“A lot of kidneys from deceased people don’t work right away and take days or weeks to start,” Dr Montgomery said. “This worked immediately.”

For the surgery, the donor pig was a “GalSafe” pig. GalSafe pigs are pigs genetically modified for use in drug production, to provide organs and tissues for human transplant and as meat for those with meat allergies.

The genetic engineering prevents the production of alpha-gal in the pigs, a carbohydrate that triggers rejection by the human recipient. Alpha-gal is a sugar found in many mammals that the human immune system identifies as foreign body and rejects the transplanted organ.

The breakthrough is that the researchers found out what in the animal organ makes the human immune system to reject it. Then they started engineering the donor genes to eliminate the rejection factor. Hopefully, the next step will be the first experimental pig kidney transplant in living people.

This proves that genetically engineered pigs “could potentially be a sustainable, renewable source of organs."

Research has been going on on transplantation of animal organs in human bodies for decades especially as there is always a shortage of human donors. Organ rejection has been the main hurdle in the way of animal organ grafting.

The 17th century attempts to use animal blood for transfusions were the first attempts in xenotransplantation. Then came an experiment of heart transplant in a dying infant, which lived 21 days with a baboon heart, a century ago. Gradually the attention shifted to pigs. One advantage with pigs was that it does not raise ethical questions as it is reared for food.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had last year approved the gene alteration in the pigs as safe for human food consumption and medicine.

Montgomery himself is surviving with a transplant - a human heart from a donor with hepatitis C he was ready to accept as he was desperately waiting in the ICU for one to come forward.

There are lakhs of patients in line for a kidney transplant around the world currently.

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