Brain-Dead Man Gets Experimental Pig Kidney Transplant

( – Doctors who carried out a bizarre medical experiment on a brain-dead man say the results could revolutionize organ transplants. The New York man was declared brain dead after a losing battle with an aggressive tumor — but doctors managed to keep his body working for more than a month after replacing his kidneys with one from a genetically modified pig. If the FDA approves clinical trials on living patients, the technology could solve the global shortage of donated organs.

Maurice Miller, a 57-year-old New York man, died from a brain tumor last month, but doctors kept his body hooked up to a ventilator so they could carry out a radical experiment. On July 14, a team of medics from the NYU Langone Transplant Institute removed both his kidneys and replaced them with a kidney taken from a pig. Since then, Miller’s body has lived on in a halfway state — his brain is irrevocably dead, but his new kidney is successfully processing waste out of his system.

NYU Langone director, Dr. Robert Montgomery, says the key factor here is that the replacement kidney was taken from a pig whose genome had been edited to remove one specific gene. That modification should prevent the recipient’s immune system from rejecting the new kidney — and, in Miller’s case, it succeeded well enough that the pig kidney seems to be working as well as his own were before the transplant.

Now Montgomery wants the FDA to authorize clinical trials on living human patients. If the genetically edited pig organs turn out to be viable as long-term replacements, it will make a huge difference to thousands of people whose own organs are failing.

As of August 18, 104,234 Americans were waiting for an organ donor to become available. Every day an average of 17 people die before a new organ can be found. If edited pig organs can work instead, many lives could be saved.

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