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Last Saturday, 62-year-old Richard Slayman made history by becoming the first living person to receive a genetically modified kidney from a pig at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Dr. Winfred Williams, his nephrologist, called the operation a groundbreaking milestone that could represent a breakthrough in the field of xenotransplantation, offering hope to the thousands of people in the U.S. waiting for organ transplants. Despite the success of Slayman’s operation so far, there are still risks associated with xenotransplantation, with previous pig-to-human heart transplants resulting in short-lived success.

While Slayman’s recovery is going well and he is expected to be sent home soon, doctors are closely monitoring his body for signs of rejection or infection. The long-term success of the pig kidney transplant remains unclear, with doctors eager to see if it will function as a short-term bridge until a human organ can be found, or if it will last for the rest of Slayman’s life. Dr. Jayme Locke, a transplant surgeon, called the procedure game-changing, although xenotransplantation is not yet approved by the FDA and more data is needed before it can be widely used.

Slayman had previously received a kidney transplant from a deceased human donor in 2018, after years on dialysis, but it began to show signs of failure last year, prompting him to return to dialysis. The option of putting Slayman back on the waiting list for a human kidney was considered, but the long wait time made it a risky choice for his health. Dr. Leonardo Riella proposed the pig kidney transplant as an alternative, with the genetically modified organ being obtained from eGenesis, a Massachusetts-based drugmaker.

The genetically modified pig kidney had a total of 69 gene edits, with 10 focused on reducing the risk of rejection and 59 aimed at lowering infection risks. Dr. Tatsuo Kawai, the surgeon who performed the operation, recounted the success of the transplant, with the kidney quickly starting to function normally after the blood flow was restored. The operating room celebrated the successful procedure, with Kawai describing the pig kidney as the most beautiful he had ever seen. While Slayman’s operation was a one-off transplantation under the FDA’s compassionate use program, it could pave the way for further advancements in xenotransplantation in the future.

Overall, the success of Richard Slayman’s pig kidney transplant marks a significant milestone in the field of xenotransplantation, offering hope to those in need of organ transplants. Despite the risks associated with the procedure and the need for further data, the groundbreaking nature of the operation has the potential to change the landscape of organ transplantation. With ongoing monitoring and research, the future of xenotransplantation holds promise for providing life-saving solutions to those waiting for organ transplants.

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