Pig kidney transplanted into human patient for first time

March 21, 2024

A Boston hospital announced Thursday that its doctors transplanted a genetically modified pig kidney into a human patient — marking the first time such a feat has been accomplished.

If the procedure is ultimately successful, it could open the door to thousands of patients with kidney failure who are waiting for an organ transplant. The doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital said the patient, Richard ‘Rick’ Slayman, is recovering well and is expected to be discharged soon.

The surgeons transplanted a genetically engineered pig kidney into Slayman on March 16 in a four-hour long procedure, the hospital said, adding that the new kidney was genetically edited to remove harmful pig genes and to add in some human genes.

Slayman, who has Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, first received a kidney transplant from a deceased donor in 2018. He was on dialysis, a treatment that helps the body remove fluids and waste when the kidneys are not able to, for eight years before that procedure.

However, the transplanted kidney began to show signs of failure and Slayman resumed dialysis in May 2023. He said his nephrologist recommended that he get a pig kidney transplant, which was approved in February by a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Expanded Access Protocol allowing a patient to receive experimental treatment when there are no comparable treatment options.

There are more than 100,000 people in the U.S. waiting for an organ transplant, according to data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. The network said about 17 people die each day while waiting for an organ.

Scientists have been exploring the practice of xenotransplantation — moving tissues or organs from one species to another — in recent years. There have been at least two pig heart transplants into living patients, but both of those men both died within months of receiving the new heart.

Dr. Winfred Williams, Slayman’s nephrologist, said the procedure was a “true milestone in the field of transplantation.”

“It also represents a potential breakthrough in solving one of the more intractable problems in our field, that being unequal access for ethnic minority patients to the opportunity for kidney transplants due to the extreme donor organ shortage and other system-based barriers,” Williams said in a statement.