An article in today’s edition of The New England Journal of Medicine reports that the 2014 study of 62 kidney transplants conducted on a deceased woman named Kamino Siailuaka is the first to successfully use an organ from a pig. This technique improves on an earlier, failed attempt to transplant from pig kidneys into sheep by bringing more quality life and reducing the rate of rejection in humans, according to published report in the journal.
According to the study, the 77-year-old Siailuaka received a transplanted pig kidney from a deceased donor in early 2014. Researchers monitored the conditions after transplant through weekly checkups and over two years. By examining her temperature, blood pressure, and kidney function, they discovered the differences between the donor kidney and the one received from an unrelated person in her home. Their analysis uncovered a striking difference in renal function: a lumbar puncture in her remaining donated kidney in which more than 80 percent of the blood was recovered showed the organ looked normal, but a lumbar puncture showed she had an abnormal kidney. “The pooling of every cell is normal. But because this has been pooled with different cells, it has its own unique character,” study researcher Dr. Scott Haner, of the Institute for Transplantation and Cellular Therapeutics at Ohio State University, told CNN.
Her blood pressure spiked with the arrival of each visit to the doctor, and her blood work indicated her kidney’s rejection rate was higher than that of a pig kidney, but not over 100 percent. “During the initial infection, she deteriorated with renal disease, but shortly after our intervention, in the first week, her cells started to reverse their competition. The [pig-donor] kidney became like a nice, clean honey, which reversed the inflammation in the kidney and stopped the disease from spreading. … [In the subsequent two years] her kidney function is almost as good as her donor kidney. It’s almost as if the pig kidney has reversed [the] disease and brought her back to good health,” Dr. Haner told CNN.
The effectiveness of this transplant technique has not been tested on humans because animal transplants are both expensive and ethically contentious. Dr. Haner told Time, “Trying [a human kidney] could set us back five to ten years and potentially cost millions of dollars, which we could be investing in the treatment of those people who need an organ.”
Experts from the study say this is just a first step to improving clinical research and eventually helping to relieve human suffering. “This is a tremendous step forward,” Dr. Kirk Bierwirth, who works at the Iowa Donor Services, which organized the study, told Time. “We now have the ability to really optimize transplant management by understanding how the body responds.”
Read The New England Journal of Medicine’s full report here.
Tristan Brown is a freelance writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his wife and children.