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The First Successful Pig-to-Human Kidney Transplant

Last month Richard Slayman became the first person in history to successfully undergo an organ transplantation of a genetically modified pig kidney.

Human-to-animal transplant, or xenotransplantation, isn’t new, but entire organ transplants are incredibly complex and raise ethical and health concerns.

So how significant is the recent pig kidney transplant and could this one day be our go-to solution for long transplant waiting lists?

Bension Siebert is joined by Wayne Hawthorne, professor of transplantation, to learn the science behind this:

Xenotransplantation is not a new idea, but the low amount of registered organ donors has increased the necessity for a scientific breakthrough of this kind.

Hawthorne says that in Australia “we have many thousands of patients on the organ transplant waiting list,” while only 513 organ donors were on the register last year.

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“The recent advent has come on the back of 30 years of xenotransplant – current technology and current era xenotransplant research,” Hawthorne says.

The challenge has been for scientists to decrease the risk of rejection by modifying the pig organ to be more acceptable to the human body.

“The big difference being that there is different epitopes on the cell surface of a pig that says ‘I’m a pig, not a human’,” Hawthorne says.

But scientists were able to successfully modify the pig’s kidney with CRISPR technology, allowing detailed editing of the DNA to replace certain pig genes with human genes for better compatibility.

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