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What is the News?
For the first time, a pig kidney has been transplanted into a human without triggering immediate rejection by the recipient’s immune system. This is a potentially huge milestone in the quest to use animal organs for human transplants.
How was the transplantation done?
The Pig was genetically engineered so that its organ was less likely to be rejected.
Then the surgical team attached the pig kidney to blood vessels outside the body of a brain-dead woman and observed it for two days.
The kidney functioned normally—filtering waste and producing urine—and didn’t show signs of rejection during the short observation period.
Hence, this could be seen as a turning point in organ transplantation.
A brief history of animal-to-human transplants
The dream of animal-to-human transplants — or xenotransplantation — goes back to the 17th century with stumbling attempts to use animal blood for transfusions.
By the 20th century, surgeons were attempting transplants of organs from baboons into humans. The most notable example was that of American infant Baby Fae, a dying infant in 1984 who lived 21 days with a baboon heart.
However, with no lasting success and much public uproar occurred due to ethical reasons.
Why was the pig chosen for the transplantation?
Pigs are produced for food, so using them for organs raises fewer ethical concerns. Pigs also have large litters, short gestation periods and organs comparable to humans.
Pig heart valves also have been used successfully for decades in humans. The blood thinner heparin is derived from pig intestines. Pigskin grafts are used on burns, and Chinese surgeons have used pig corneas to restore sight.
Hence, the pig was chosen for organ transplantation.
Source: This post is based on the article “U.S. surgeons successfully test pig kidney transplant in human patient” published in TOI on 21st October 2021.