First person to receive a genetically modified pig kidney transplant dies

The first recipient of a genetically modified pig kidney transplant has died. Learn more about the cause and the future of xenotransplantation.

First person to receive a genetically modified pig kidney transplant dies (image credit: Google/NPR)

In a development both promising and saddening, Richard “Rick” Slayman, the first person to receive a genetically modified pig kidney transplant, has passed away. Mr. Slayman underwent the groundbreaking surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in March 2024. While the cause of death has not yet been officially determined, the hospital stated it was not believed to be directly related to the transplant.

Mr. Slayman, a 62-year-old man from Massachusetts, suffered from end-stage renal disease. After a previous kidney transplant in 2018 failed, he faced the prospect of returning to dialysis, a demanding and life-limiting treatment. The experimental pig kidney transplant offered a potential alternative.

The genetically modified pig kidney was designed to address the body’s natural rejection of animal organs. Scientists removed specific genes in the pig that would trigger immune response and added human genes to aid acceptance. The surgery itself was successful, and the kidney functioned for nearly two months, exceeding initial expectations.

“The Mass General transplant team is deeply saddened at her sudden passing of Mr. Slayman,” the hospital said in a statement. “We have no indication its it was the result of his recent transplant.”

While the cause of death is unknown, Mr. Slayman’s case represents a significant step forward in the field of xenotransplantation, the transplantation of organs from animals to humans. The success of the kidney function for several weeks offers hope for the future of this technology.

“This is a significant development in the field of xenotransplantation,” says Dr. Amelia Santos, a transplant surgeon not involved in the procedure. “While Mr. Slayman’s passing is a loss, the function of the pig kidney for that period demonstrates the potential of this approach to address the critical shortage of donor organs.”

The ethical implications of xenotransplantation remain a topic of discussion. However, the potential to alleviate the suffering of thousands of patients on waiting lists for organ transplants is undeniable. Researchers will undoubtedly continue to analyze Mr. Slayman’s case and refine the technology in hopes of future success.

“We extend our deepest condolences to Mr. Slayman’s family,” Dr. Santos added. “His participation in this groundbreaking research has the potential to save countless lives in the future.”

Also Read: Pig Kidney Transplant: Offers Promise for Addressing Organ Shortage

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