A team of surgeons at the Langone Institute performed its fifth animal-to-human transplant using organs from genetically modified pigs. The Revivicor company modified the organ in order to prevent rejection by the recipient’s immune system.
According to a report in Gizmodo, the current recipient is a fifty-seven-year-old man whose heart is functional but he is medically considered brain dead. With permission from his family, he has been put on a ventilator.
The kidney has now performed successfully inside his body for six weeks. This period has proven to be the longest yet.
To date, the transplant recipients have been people who were declared brain dead. In each case, their families had given permission to keep the recipient alive using mechanical devices while the transplanted organ was being monitored.
Phillip Sommer, NYU Langone’s organ donation system director stated that all signs indicate that the surgeons are heading in the right direction and that the kidney might function just like a normal kidney.
A Transplant and the Pig Virus
The question now is what is the best way to ensure that pig organs can safely be transplanted into the human body.
David Bennett, fifty-seven-year-old heart transplant recipient, died two months after the heart transplant. Researchers found that his death was partially caused by a pig virus that may have been dormant and not detected by conventional testing. The researchers now perform specific screening to detect latent pig viruses.
Ten Genetic Modifications
Although some transplants using pig organs have involved as many as ten genetic modifications, the NYU team chose a pig that could not produce a sugar called alpha-gel. It is a sugar found in most mammals but not in humans and not in this specific animal. The team also transplanted over the thymus gland that is responsible for controlling immune response.
Revivicor has received approval from the FDA to use these pigs medically or as food for people who have a rare tickborne allergy to alpha-gal.
Robert Montgomery, lead surgeon, commented that they are aware that their performance at this point has the potential to benefit thousands of people, but they must first ensure that it is safe.
The team’s immediate plans are to continue the experiment for a few more weeks through mid-September.