First Person to Receive Pig Kidney Transplant Dies

First Person to Receive Pig Kidney Transplant Dies | Healthcare 360 Magazine


Richard “Rick” Slayman, the pioneering recipient of a kidney from a genetically modified pig, has died at the age of 62. Slayman, who underwent the groundbreaking procedure pig kidney transplant on March 16 at Massachusetts General Hospital, passed away nearly two months post-transplant. The hospital, in a statement released on May 11, clarified that there was “no indication” Slayman’s death was related to the pig kidney transplant.

Slayman had previously received a human kidney transplant in 2018, but by 2023, that kidney began to fail. Facing a long wait for another human kidney due to the severe shortage of donor organs—nearly 90,000 people in the US alone are on the waiting list for a kidney—Slayman’s doctors proposed the experimental pig kidney transplant. Researchers have long explored the potential of animal organs to address organ shortages.

Complications with Pig Kidney Transplant Dialysis

Before the transplant, Slayman experienced numerous complications with dialysis, a process that uses a machine to remove waste and excess fluid from the blood when the kidneys fail. His blood vessels frequently clotted and failed, leading to regular hospital visits and a significantly diminished quality of life.

Pig kidney transplants had only been tested in recently deceased individuals prior to Slayman’s procedure. He became the first living person to receive such a transplant. “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,” Slayman said in a statement in March.

Initial Success and Rejection Signs

At a press conference on March 21, Slayman’s surgical team announced that the transplanted kidney began functioning normally shortly after the surgery. However, about a week later, doctors detected initial signs of rejection. They swiftly treated Slayman with medication, and he recovered well enough to be discharged from the hospital. No further details about his condition after discharge have been released. Massachusetts General Hospital has not provided additional information at this time.

A second living person, 54-year-old Lisa Pisano, received a genetically engineered pig kidney last month at NYU Langone Health. Her surgery also included the transplant of the pig’s thymus gland. Transplanting organs from one species to another, known as xenotransplantation, faces significant challenges, primarily the human immune system’s rejection of animal tissue.

Genetic Engineering to Prevent Rejection

To overcome these hurdles, scientists use genetic engineering. Slayman’s transplant involved a pig with 69 genetic edits created by eGenesis, a biotech company. These edits removed harmful pig genes and added certain human genes. In Pisano’s case, a kidney from a pig with a single genetic edit, produced by Revivicor, was used. Her doctors are relying on the implanted pig thymus to help prevent rejection. Patients receiving pig transplants must also take immunosuppressant drugs for life.

Previous Attempts and Future Prospects

In 2022 and 2023, surgeons at the University of Maryland transplanted hearts from gene-edited pigs into two patients ineligible for human transplants. Both patients died about two months post-transplant. Despite these setbacks, the field continues to advance, offering hope for future breakthroughs.

In a statement, Slayman’s family expressed comfort in the hope he provided to other transplant patients. “His legacy will be one that inspires patients, researchers, and healthcare professionals everywhere,” they said. Slayman’s courageous participation in this experimental procedure marks a significant step in the ongoing quest to solve the organ shortage crisis.

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