Surgeons Implant Genetically-Edited Pig’s Kidneys Into Brain-Dead Patient

Thanks to medical developments, bacon may not be the only piece of a pig heading into your body. On Thursday, the results of a surgery that saw doctors transplant a genetically-altered pig’s kidneys into a brain-dead patient’s abdomen were published in the American Journal of Transplantation.

The surgery had been conducted back on Sept. 30 in Birmingham, Alabama, while the patient — 57-year-old James Parsons — was declared brain-dead after suffering blunt trauma from a dirt bike race accident.

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The pig’s kidneys were transplanted just as typical human’s organs would be, and the results were certainly encouraging – the kidneys survived over the course of three days until Parsons was taken off life support.

Speaking to the Associated Press, the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Dr. Jayme Locke — the lead of the study — explained he had initial doubts, not knowing if the pig kidney blood vessels could withstand human blood pressure force (which they were able to).

While one kidney was damaged during the removal, the other kidney successfully produced urine, while no pig cells or viruses were found in Parsons. For Locke, the operation could signal a huge relief when it comes to transplantations in the medical world. “The organ shortage is in fact an unmitigated crisis and we’ve never had a real solution to it,” he said.

Despite 2021 seeing a record-breaking number of total organ transplants with over 41,000, there are still 106,553 men, woman, and children on the national transplant waiting list, while 17 people die each day waiting for a transplant according to the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA)

The study continues the flurry of animal-to-human transplants, also known as xenotransplantation. Earlier this month, a pig’s heart was transplanted to 57-year-old patient David Bennett, who had been deemed ineligible for traditional heart transplant. While the seven-hour transplant was successful, his long-terms odds of survival are yet to be seen.

Surgeons also previously implanted a pig’s kidneys to a pair of blood vessels outside a deceased patient’s body to observe what would happen in October. Like Locke’s transplant, the kidney in this situation functioned normally as well, producing both urine and filtering waste.

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However, the AP noted that there is still some hurdles needed to be jumped before doctors can began implanting pig kidneys into living patients. The scientists also need to determine how long pig organs can function within the human body, and what kind of genetic alterations are needed for each kind of organ.

As for why pigs are frequently used in xenotransplantation, BIO explained that the animal’s ability to breed and mature quickly, along with its organs — which are close in size and functionality to a human’s — make them an ideal specimen. Pigs can also be highly health when bred in controlled environments.

Scientists had looked towards primates as possible xenotransplantation specimens,given their similarities to humans. However, primates’ organs greatly differ in size than humans, and also have a greater chance of spreading disease between the subjects. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a de facto ban on clinical trials between human and non-human primates in 1999.