First human to receive modified pig kidney dies

May 13, 2024

The first person to undergo a transplant procedure for a genetically modified pig kidney has died, the hospital that performed the surgery and his family said on Saturday.

Rick Slayman died suddenly, both his family and doctors said, nearly two months after he received the kidney in a four-hour procedure in March. The Associated Press reported that the surgeons believed the pig kidney would last for at least two years.

The transplant team at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), which performed the procedure, said they have “no indication” that his death was caused by the transplant. They said they were “deeply saddened” by news of his death.

“Mr. Slayman will forever be seen as a beacon of hope to countless transplant patients worldwide and we are deeply grateful for his trust and willingness to advance the field of xenotransplantation,” MGH said in a statement.

“We offer our heartfelt condolences to Mr. Slayman’s family and loved ones as they remember an extraordinary person whose generosity and kindness touched all who knew him,” the statement continued.

The family thanked the doctors in a statement.

“Our family is deeply saddened about the sudden passing of our beloved Rick but take great comfort knowing he inspired so many. Millions of people worldwide have come to know Rick’s story. We felt — and still feel — comforted by the optimism he provided patients desperately waiting for a transplant,” the family statement said.

They expressed their gratitude for the medical team at Mass General. “Their enormous efforts leading the xenotransplant gave our family seven more weeks with Rick, and our memories made during that time will remain in our minds and hearts,” they continued.

Slayman, who had 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.

The transplanted kidney began to show signs of failure, however, and Slayman resumed dialysis in May. 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 died within months of receiving the new organ.