Doctors in New York City transplanted a kidney grown in a pig to a brain-dead woman in a major step forward for xenotransplantation, a process in which human organs are grown in animals and then transplanted into humans. The kidney functioned normally and processed urine for 54 hours before the woman was removed from a ventilator and died.
The procedure is the most significant xenotransplantation experiment ever done, and a step toward what many scientists believe is one of two potential future processes that could help supply enough organs to patients who are on the extremely long transplantation lists. Roughly 106,000 Americans are estimated to be waiting for organs needed for life-saving transplantation procedures. Some futurists believe that we will eventually grow organs in a laboratory or print them using advanced 3D bioprinters; others believe that we can grow human organs in genetically modified pigs, then transplant them into humans.
The surgery was done by Robert Montgomery, the head of NYU Langone Health’s Transplant Institute, with a $3.2 million grant from United Therapeutics, according to USA Today, which first reported the news. United Therapeutics CEO and transhumanist Martine Rothblatt, for example, has said she wants to build futuristic pig farms that would grow human organs whose “lungs are 99 percent pig genome, with a little bit of human genome to make them tolerable to humans.” The U.S. military's DARPA is also interested in the technology.
Scientists have been making huge strides forward in xenotransplantation over the last several years. A pig heart was successfully transplanted into a baboon in 2013; the baboon lived for more than a year after that surgery. In 2017, scientists say they successfully modified pig genomes using the gene-editing technique CRISPR to eliminate genes that coded for porcine viruses that could have affected humans.
The NYU Langone transplantation is by far the biggest step forward. According to Montgomery, the surgery was a success; the kidney immediately began receiving blood from the body and processed urine within minutes.