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First-Ever Recipient of Gene-Edited Pig Kidney Dies

Surgeons Perform First Combined Heart Pump and Pig Kidney Transplant
Source: Unsplash

The pigs saved the day for this New Jersey woman.

May 15 2024, Published 9:05 a.m. ET

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Rick Slayman, 62, became the first-ever recipient of a gene-edited pig kidney at Massachusetts General Hospital on March 16. Slayman had end-stage kidney disease and previously received a human kidney treatment, but it showed signs of failure after a few years.

So, his doctors proposed the experimental pig kidney treatment as Slayman was restarting dialysis and experiencing severe complications.

While the doctors had hopes of the pig kidney lasting years, Slayman died just weeks after his surgery, Live Science reported. However, his medical team says there's no evidence the transplant was releated to Slayman's death.

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NYU Langone Health recently announced the completion of another groundbreaking transplant surgery — one marking the first-ever procedure to integrate both a mechanical heart pump and a gene-edited pig kidney.

Lisa Pisano, a 54-year-old resident of New Jersey, became the recipient of this pioneering medical intervention due to her concurrent conditions of heart failure and end-stage kidney disease, necessitating regular dialysis.

Despite her urgent need for organ transplants, Pisano faced significant hurdles. Chronic medical conditions and the scarcity of donor organs in the United States made traditional heart or kidney transplants unfeasible for her.

Determined to explore all possibilities, Pisano embraced the opportunity presented by the innovative surgery.

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During a press conference held from her ICU bed, Pisano expressed her willingness to seize this chance, emphasizing her desire to spend quality time with her grandchildren, a prospect hindered by her deteriorating health, CNN reported.

The critical shortage of available organs in the US underscores the urgency for alternative solutions. Tragically, 17 individuals in the country succumb daily while awaiting organ transplants, with kidneys being particularly scarce.

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Xenotransplants, involving the transplantation of animal organs into humans, offer a promising avenue to alleviate the organ shortage crisis. Through gene editing techniques, such as those employed in pigs, advancements aim to mitigate the risk of organ rejection by the human body.

Pisano's procedure, conducted in early April for the heart pump and mid-April for the gene-edited pig kidney, represents a milestone in medical history. It marks the first reported instance of combining a mechanical heart pump with organ transplantation and the second documented case of a gene-edited pig kidney being transplanted into a living recipient, alongside the pig’s thymus gland.

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Pisano's situation was particularly dire, as she battled congestive heart failure, had undergone heart stent placement and faced the challenges of colon cancer treatment.

Dr. Robert Montgomery, leading the surgical team at NYU Langone, described Pisano's condition as a "medical 'Catch-22'," highlighting the complexities that precluded conventional treatment options. Under the FDA's expanded-access policies, Pisano's medical team obtained authorization to conduct the innovative procedures, offering hope to terminally ill patients facing limited alternatives.

The gene-edited pig kidney, engineered to reduce the risk of rejection, was accompanied by the pig's thymus gland to aid Pisano's immune system in recognizing the transplanted organ. Montgomery emphasized the simplicity of the gene edits in this case, facilitating scalability and potential widespread application in addressing organ scarcity.

While Pisano's journey to recovery is ongoing, early signs are promising. Her kidney is functioning optimally, and her heart condition has notably improved. Medical professionals remain vigilant for potential complications, including rejection and infection, with ongoing rehabilitation anticipated before potential discharge.


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