The study is a major milestone in the viability of xenotransplantation as a possible treatment for end-stage kidney disease.
Kidney disease is a debilitating ailment that has till now not had any practical cure or workaround. But that is about to change as a study conducted by the University of Alabama has allowed genetically modified pig kidneys to work in humans. The clinical trial, which spanned seven days, showcased that the pig kidneys were able to provide "life-sustaining kidney function." These results come as a welcome finding owing to the ongoing shortage of kidney donors across the world.
According to the American Kidney Fund, 37 million Americans suffer from kidney disease, out of which 807,000 Americans have kidney failure. A startling 562,000 Americans manage to survive by undergoing dialysis. Only 245,000 Americans were able to get a kidney transplant. Kidney disease continues to spread at an alarming rate in the country and has affects one out of seven American adults.
The study is also a major milestone in the viability of xenotransplantation as a possible treatment for end-stage kidney disease, similar to how human transplants work. According to the FDA, xenotransplantation is any procedure that involves the transplantation, implantation or infusion of animal tissues or organs into a human recipient.
Jayme Locke, M.D., director of the institute's Transplant Institute and lead author of the paper, reflected on the remarkable achievement, saying: "It has been truly extraordinary to see the first-ever preclinical demonstration that appropriately modified pig kidneys can provide normal, life-sustaining kidney function in a human safely and be achieved using a standard immunosuppression regimen." She went on to say that the kidney worked "remarkably" over the seven-day study.
The paper that was submitted to the JAMA Surgery journal details how human trials were done on a recipient who was declared to be brain dead by the Locke and Heersink School of Medicine team. The result comes after 19 months when the team managed to successfully transfer genetically modified pig kidneys into a recipient after brain death had occurred. Working on an individual who was brain-dead allowed the research team to safely understand how pig transplants would work in a human without danger to a living person.
The futuristic study is named after Jim Parson, an organ donor whose family agreed to donate his body for xenotransplant kidney research, similar to the latest patient. The subject on whom the operation was performed had lived with hypertension and stage 2 chronic kidney disease. The team removed both of his native kidneys, after which they put in gene-edited pig kidneys or UKidneys. They then observed that the transplanted kidneys were able to make urine within four minutes of reperfusion and managed to make 37 liters of urine in the initial 24 hours.
Throughout the study, sequential kidney biopsies were conducted on the pig kidneys. Examination of these biopsies using light microscopy revealed no signs of red blood cell destruction, low platelet counts or organ damage caused by the development of tiny blood clots in capillaries or small arteries, with the kidney tissue displaying a normal histological appearance. Being able to genetically edit pigs to minimize rejection by the immune system in humans has allowed organ transplants from pigs to humans to be a viable alternative.
Extensive testing of genetically modified pig kidneys has been carried out in non-human primates. The incorporation of UAB's preclinical human research model, known as the Parsons Model, has now supplied crucial insights into the safety and effectiveness of these kidneys when used in human transplant recipients. Hopefully, with time, we will get to see better results from the team and provide a better future for individuals suffering from kidney disease.