Pig Kidney Has Been Working in a Human for 32 Days

The patient in question is brain-dead
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 16, 2023 1:15 PM CDT
Pig Kidney Has Been Working in a Human for 32 Days
Surgeons at NYU Langone Health prepare to transplant a pig's kidney into a brain-dead man in New York on July 14, 2023. Researchers around the country are racing to learn how to use animal organs to save human lives.   (AP Photo/Shelby Lum)

Maurice Miller is brain-dead, but the 57-year-old is being kept alive so doctors at NYU Langone Health in New York City can study his kidney—which was transplanted from a pig. The organ has been producing urine and filtering toxins since July 14, meaning 32 days. That's far longer than the three days NYU Langone researchers had previously studied pig kidneys in humans for, and the AP reports it's the longest a pig kidney has managed to work in a human. NYU Langone doctors hope it goes even longer. While the Wall Street Journal reports there are ethical considerations around such research—"extending the length of studies delays burial and closure for families"—Miller's family and a research-oversight committee have signed on to keep the experiment going until mid-September.

Dr. Robert Montgomery, director of NYU Langone's transplant institute, sounds optimistic, telling the AP, "It looks even better than a human kidney." The Journal explains the pig kidney that was transplanted into Miller had one edit made to its DNA to adjust the gene responsible for the production of a sugar molecule on the surface of pig cells; the molecule can cause the human immune system to reject the organ. Other transplant researchers have toyed with more gene edits (University of Alabama at Birmingham doctors have tested a pig kidney with 10; they worked inside a donated body for seven days).

As for Miller, the AP reports he died suddenly from a brain cancer that hadn't been diagnosed. "I struggled with it," says sister Mary Miller-Duffy. But "I think this is what my brother would want. So I offered my brother to them. He's going to be in the medical books, and he will live on forever." ABC7 reports that if this kidney makes it to the 60-day mark, the hope is the FDA would permit studies of the organ in live volunteers in need of a transplant. (A pig heart was transplanted into a dying man who had no other options last year; he survived for two months.)

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