Genetically modified pig kidney transplant on human: the first performed

Genetically modified pig kidney transplant on human: the first performed
Genetically modified pig kidney transplant on human: the first performed

The result of an operation carried out by New York University: it could represent a turning point in animal-to-human transplants and give way to new experiments

Foto: National Cancer Institute | Unsplash

On 25 September last, a genetically modified pig kidney transplant on human and it turned out to be a success. A team of surgeons from New York University, the US media reported, has experimented with the implantation of the pig’s organ, duly modified in order to avoid rejection phenomena, in a woman kept alive artificially with signs of renal dysfunction, with the consent of her family. The new kidney began to work right away, without giving rise to problems related to rejection. This result, which has yet to undergo the peer review process, could pave the way for new experiments, and feeds the hopes of a future in which the demand for new organs to be transplanted can be equal to the offer.

From animals to humans

XenotrapiantoThis is the name of the procedure that involves the transplantation, implantation or infusion of cells, tissues or organs into a human recipient coming from an animal. The history of xenotransplantation in medicine is long: the first attempts to use animal blood for transfusions date back to the seventeenth century, albeit with little success. Centuries later, transplants from animals to humans they have not stopped being studied, mainly because, year after year, the demand for human organs for clinical transplantation far exceeds the actual supply.

Over the decades, the pigs turned out to be i better candidates to face the shortage of transplant organs: thanks to numerous experiments, these animals have been shown to possess several advantages over primates – other possible candidates for this purpose – such as larger litters, short gestation periods and organs in size and structure comparable to human ones.

When it comes to xenotransplantation, however, the risk of failure is around the corner: it is necessary, in fact, to eliminate the so-called hyperacute rejection, the body’s first line of defense against transplantation between different species. In particular, pig cells have one on their surface molecule made of sugars, which our immune system recognizes as foreign to transplanted organs, attacking them and triggering rejection.

To overcome this obstacle, regenerative medicine is betting everything on organs derived from animals genetically modified, which have characteristics such as not to activate the recipient’s immune response. For example, the biotech company specializing in regenerative medicine Revivicor has produced genetically modified pork kidneys, in which the sugar molecule indicted is absent from all cells: organs of this type should not induce rejection phenomena.

A breakthrough in organ transplants

To verify the actual applicability of such a xenograft, the team of surgeons at New York University, led by Robert Montgomery, implanted the genetically modified pig kidney in a patient declared brain dead but kept alive by machines, keeping it under observation e monitoring its function for two days. The patient had indicated that she wanted to donate the organs, but, since they did not meet the required criteria, the family members agreed to the doctors to proceed with the experiment. The result was that the new kidney began to function without triggering rejection.

This is a pivotal moment in organ transplantationMontgomery said in an interview with Cbs Evening News, in which he stated that the success of the procedure exceeded everyone’s expectations. “There was complete silence for a few minutes while we were observing what we were looking at, which was incredible “, continues the surgeon, talking about the operation: “The Renesi is immediately put into operation“.

The experiment, which – we recall – has not yet been published in a scientific journal or subjected to the peer review process, could give way to trials on patients with end-stage renal failure. According to Montgomery, as he reports Reuters, these studies could test xenograft as short-term solution for patients on the waiting list until a human kidney is available, or how permanent transplant. At the moment, in fact, in the United States, ten patients die every day while they are on the waiting list to receive a transplant. In Italy, according to the Ministry of Health, to date there are 8,295 people waiting to receive an organ transplant: the average times that a patient has to wait vary, but they reach 3 years and 4 months for those who need a kidney transplant.

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