Scientists temporarily attached a pig’s kidney to a human body and watched it begin to work, a small step in the decades-long quest to one day use animal organs for life-saving transplants.
Pigs have been the most recent research focus to address the organ shortage, but among the hurdles: A sugar in pig cells, foreign to the human body, causes immediate organ rejection. The kidney for this experiment came from a gene-edited animal, engineered to eliminate that sugar and avoid an immune system attack.
Surgeons attached the pig kidney to a pair of large blood vessels outside the body of a deceased recipient so they could observe it for two days. The kidney did what it was supposed to do — filter waste and produce urine — and didn't trigger rejection.
“It had absolutely normal function,” said Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led the surgical team last month at NYU Langone Health. “It didn’t have this immediate rejection that we have worried about.”
This research is “a significant step,” said Dr. Andrew Adams