Organ transplants

First Pig Kidney Transplant Patient Goes Home

Potentially good news for the nearly 100,000 Americans on the transplant waiting list.


Two weeks ago, surgeons from Massachusetts General Hospital for the first time ever transplanted a kidney from a specially genetically modified pig into a living kidney-failure patient, Rick Slayman. Researchers had earlier tested the safety and efficacy of modified pig kidneys in brain-dead patients. Now, the xenotransplant has been so successful that Slayman has been released to go home.

The human-compatible kidney was provided by biotech company eGenesis which used CRISPR gene-editing technology to knock out three porcine genes that would otherwise provoke immunological rejection, add seven human genes to reduce inflammation and rejection, and inactivate porcine retroviruses that might infect a patient.

Although some animal rights activists object to killing animals for transplant organs, New York University bioethicist Arthur Caplan has observed, "If you're interested in animal rights, you're probably better off turning toward trying to change behavior at breakfast than you are trying to change behavior about organ transplants." Keep in mind that around 125 million hogs are slaughtered for food annually in the U.S., so good luck with changing either.

In 1995, Cambridge University transplant surgeon Roy Calne suggested that xenotransplantation "is just around the corner, but it may be a very long corner." The preliminary success of Slayman's transplant suggests that scientists and physicians may, at long last, be about to round that corner. That would be really good news for the nearly 100,000 Americans who are on the waiting list for kidney transplants.