Pig kidney transplanted into man in surgical first

Massachusetts General Hospital surgeons successfully transplanted a pig kidney into a 62-year-old man in four-hour surgery, the hospital announced Thursday. 

It’s the first time a genetically modified pig kidney has been transplanted into a living person. Before the surgery, pig kidneys had only been temporarily transplanted into brain-dead organ donors.

Doctors held a news conference Thursday and said the patient, Richard "Rick" Slayman of Weymouth, Massachusetts, is recovering from the surgery, which happened on March 16, and should be discharged soon. 

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There were 15 people in the operating room for the four-hour procedure. Doctors said almost as soon as it was implanted, the kidney turned pink and started producing urine. 


Doctors perform first ever pig kidney transplant on human (Massachusetts General Hospital)

"It was truly the most beautiful kidney I have ever seen," said D. Tatsuo Kawai, the transplant surgeon. 

Slayman had a kidney transplant at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2018, but had to go back on dialysis last year. Doctors suggested a pig kidney transplant after dialysis complications continued to require frequent procedures to fix. 

Doctors said Slayman became "increasingly despondent and depressed over his dialysis situation." 

"At one point ... he literally said ‘I just can't go on like this,’" said his kidney specialist, Dr. Winfred Williams.

"I saw it not only as a way to help me, but a way to provide hope for the thousands of people who need a transplant to survive," said Slayman, a systems manager for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.


Doctors perform first ever pig kidney transplant on human (Massachusetts General Hospital)

Surgeons at University of Maryland Medicine have done two pig heart transplants in humans, but both people who received the pig hearts died within months. Williams said the people who received the pig heart transplants were very sick, while Slayman is "actually quite robust."

What is xenotransplantation? 

The surgery that happened at Mass General is known as xenotransplantation, or efforts to try to heal human patients with cells, tissues, or organs from animals. 

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It’s been tried for decades, but none have been successful, as patients’ immune systems immediately attacked the foreign animal parts. 


Doctors perform first ever pig kidney transplant on human (Massachusetts General Hospital)

The more recent pig transplants involve organs that have been modified to be more human-like. 

There are more than 100,000 people on the national waiting list for an organ transplant, according to Donate Life America. Most of them need kidney transplants, and many people die every year before they’re matched with a donor, according to The Associated Press. 

The Food and Drug Administration gave special permission for Slayman's transplant under "compassionate use" rules.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.