From people in comas waking up to diseases vanishing, medical miracles happen every day. But some doctors are advancing the methods we use to get needed organs. According to the New York Times, surgeons in New York City successfully attached a kidney grown inside a pig to a patient.
The unidentified patient apparently suffered from brain death. They were a registered organ donor, but none of their organs were “suitable” for transplant so the family allowed them to be used for research.
While on a ventilator, the pig kidney was attached to blood vessels in the upper leg of the patient and covered with a shield. It functioned as it should. The kidney received the blood and processed urine and waste product creatinine “almost immediately.” The surgery took place in September and the organ was studied for 54 hours.
The kidney was sourced from a pig genetically engineered to grow human organs that won’t be rejected by the human body. Xenotransplantation is the word for the medical procedure that took place. Per the Food & Drug Administration, this procedure “involves the transplantation, implantation or infusion” of “live cells, tissues or organs from a nonhuman animal source.”
Scientists have been working overtime to find new ways to tackle the large demand for organ transplants. Estimates show that more than 100,000 Americans are waiting to receive organs from transplant lists. About 90,240 people on the list need kidneys.
Robert Montgomery, who is the head of the Langone Health’s Transplant Institute at New York University, performed the recent kidney surgery.
“The field up to now has been stuck in the preclinical primate stage, because going from primate to living human is perceived as a big jump,” Dr. Montgomery said.
According to Vice, he received a $3.2 million grant from United Therapeutics to fund the medical project. The Maryland-based pharmaceutical company focuses on developing “novel pharmaceutical therapies” and “technologies that expand the availability of transplantable organs.”
Pigs are apparently a great match for organ procurement. NY Times reports that they’re “easier to raise, reach maturation faster, and achieve adult human size in six months.” Moreover, humans are not unfamiliar to using pig body parts. Pig heart values, pig pancreas cells and pig skin have all been used in medical procedures.
Although the idea might be off-putting to some, United Therapeutics’ CEO Martine doesn’t think so.
“Weird does not mean unethical. There’s a 45-degree line on a graph—as long as the utility exceeds the yuckiness, social acceptance wins,” Martine said. “Taking organs from dead people and putting them in living people once seemed weird, it’s not weird anymore. It would be stupid to abjure nature’s greatest invention since chemistry.”
The research has reportedly not been reviewed or published in a journal yet.
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