A monkey has successfully survived for over two years with a pig’s kidney, leading experts to believe that this “extraordinary” result offers hope for their use in humans. In an experiment, twenty-one macaque monkeys received organs from Yucatan miniature pigs that had been genetically modified.
To prevent rejection and prolong survival, scientists made 69 genetic modifications to the pig kidneys. This included eliminating pig viruses and removing antigen coding genes that are targeted by the human immune system, leading to organ rejection. Additionally, modifications were made to the porcine endogenous retrovirus (PERV) gene, which research suggests could infect human cells.
The introduction of human genes to the pigs also contributed to the prolonged survival of the kidneys. Kidneys that underwent genetic editing solely to remove antigen genes had low success rates. However, kidneys that had seven human genes added saw a seven-fold increase in survival rates, with an average survival of 176 days, and one monkey surviving for 758 days.
Dr. Michael Curtis, the CEO of biotech firm eGenesis, described this achievement as an “extraordinary milestone” that brings the testing of genetically modified pig kidneys for human use a step closer. He believes it paves the way for better outcomes in life-saving organ transplants.
Professor Tatsuo Kawai from Harvard Medical School stated that the results in humans are expected to be even more favorable than those seen in the monkeys. In the UK alone, over 5,000 individuals are currently awaiting kidney transplants, representing over three-quarters of all people on the transplant waiting list.
Pigs have been considered the most suitable donors due to their size and similarities to human organs. However, overcoming immune system rejection has been a longstanding challenge. Recent advancements in gene editing and immune system suppression techniques have shown promise in addressing this issue.
In separate cases, two individuals have received pig hearts, with the first person passing away two months after the surgery in 2022. The second recipient, who underwent surgery last month, is said to be recovering and has started physical therapy according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
In another development, US scientists successfully transplanted a genetically modified pig kidney into a 58-year-old man who was brain dead. The kidney functioned for two months, marking the longest successful duration achieved so far.
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