Scientists in the United States have made a genetically modified pig kidney work in a human, a breakthrough that represents hope for many people waiting for a transplant.
If success is confirmed, we could imagine that one day pigs could be raised to provide organs (lungs, hearts, etc.) to humans in need.
The operation was carried out at NYU Langone Hospital in New York on September 25, using the kidney of a pig that had undergone a genetic modification so that the organ was not rejected by the human body.
The kidney was not strictly implanted within a human body, but was connected to the blood vessels of a brain-dead patient, whose family had authorized the experiment, at the level of the upper leg.
The kidney “worked well” for the two and a half days of the experiment, Robert Montgomery, director of NYU’s Langone Transplant Institute, told AFP. “He did what he was supposed to do, … produced urine.”
That transplant had already been tried in primates, but never yet in humans.
In fact, the human body contains antibodies that attack a type of sugar normally present “in all cells of pigs”, causing “immediate rejection” of the organ, explains Robert Montgomery.
But this time the animal has been genetically modified so that it no longer produces this sugar and a “rapid rejection of the kidney” was not observed.
More than 100,000 Americans are currently on the waiting list for organ transplants. 17 people die every day while waiting for a donation.
Some experts have received the news with caution, as the detailed results of the study have yet to be published in a scientific journal.
“However, it is an interesting step on the road to using genetically modified pigs as a source of organs for transplantation,” said Alan Archibald, a geneticist at the University of Edinburgh.
Xenografts, from animals to humans, are not new. Doctors have tried cross-species transplants since at least the 17th century, and the first experiments focused on primates.
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