New Study Shows Promise for Pig-to-Monkey Kidney Transplants
A revolutionary new study published in the journal Nature has revealed promising findings in the field of organ transplantation. Researchers have successfully transplanted genetically modified pig kidneys into monkeys, sparking hope that human trials might be on the horizon.
The need for organ transplants is dire, with more than 90,000 people currently on the waiting list for a new kidney in the United States alone. Globally, kidney problems are a leading cause of death. The current treatment for kidney failure, dialysis, is only a fraction as effective as a healthy kidney and carries a 50% chance of death within five years.
While around 170 million people in the US have signed up to be organ donors, the number of viable organs available for transplantation is limited. Only 3 in 1,000 people die in a way that permits organ donation. This scarcity has spurred scientists to explore alternative sources, with pigs emerging as potential organ donors due to their anatomical similarities to humans and their rapid reproductive abilities.
The study focused on the Yucatan breed of pig, which shares a similar weight and kidney size with humans. To reduce the likelihood of organ rejection and minimize the need for immunosuppressant drugs, the pigs were genetically modified. Three gene modifications proved crucial for successful transplants: disabling genes that trigger rejection, inserting human genes that regulate rejection pathways, and deactivating dormant viruses in the pigs.
The combination of gene edits and immunosuppressive drugs allowed the transplanted pig kidneys to function effectively in monkeys for extended periods of time. Monkeys that received kidneys from pigs with incomplete gene edits did not survive more than 50 days. However, those that received kidneys with all the necessary gene modifications lived for over a year, with one monkey even surpassing two years.
The researchers are now planning to collaborate with the US Food and Drug Administration to initiate clinical trials in humans. Dr. Robert Montgomery, director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute, believes the study provides significant support for progressing to human trials. However, he acknowledges potential safety risks and regulatory challenges associated with introducing a multitude of gene edits.
While other recent pig-to-human transplants, such as heart transplants, have shown some success, further research and testing are necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness of pig organs in humans. Nevertheless, this breakthrough study brings new hope to the thousands of patients awaiting kidney transplants and marks a significant step forward in the field of organ transplantation.
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