Monkey survives for two years on gene-edited pig-kidney transplant

Monkey survives for two years on gene-edited pig-kidney transplant
Image: LU Staff

“A kidney transplanted from a genetically engineered miniature pig kept a monkey alive for more than two years — one of the longest survival times for an interspecies organ transplant,” reports Nature:

The feat brings clinicians one step closer to their goal of relieving the shortage of life-saving human organs, by using animal organs, a practice known as xenotransplantation… A raft of genome edits prevent the recipient’s immune system from attacking the new organs, and that also neutralize ancient viruses lurking in the donor’s organs….This study will provide more data to regulators such as the US Food and Drug Administration, which is considering whether to approve the first human trials of non-human organ transplants….In the past few years, researchers have transplanted pig hearts into two living people2, and demonstrated that pig hearts3 and kidneys4 can function in people who have been declared legally dead.

Such research is crucial, given the dearth of suitable organ donors…In the United States alone, more than 100,000 people are awaiting an organ transplant, and about 17 of them die each day.

Xenotransplantation research has mainly focused on pigs…in part because their organs are of a comparable size and anatomy to that of humans. But the immune systems of humans and other primates react to three molecules on the surfaces of pig cells, causing them to reject unaltered pig organs. So, researchers started using the genome-editing technology CRISPR–Cas9 to disable the genes that encode enzymes that produce those molecules….The last seven edits are additions of human genes that help to keep the transplanted organ healthy. Two genes, for example, encode proteins that prevent unnecessary blood clotting.

Qin and her colleagues created pigs with these gene edits and transplanted a pig kidney into more than 20 cynomolgus macaques..that also received an immunosuppressive drug cocktail. None of the monkeys that received kidneys without the seven human genes survived for more than 50 days. By comparison, 9 of the 15 monkeys that received kidneys with the human genes did. Five of those monkeys lived for more than one year, and one of the five lived for more than two….the transplanted organs performed just as well as two native kidneys.

Organs transplanted from conventional pigs grow rapidly in the recipients, threatening to compromise the grafts. Some researchers have tried… solving this problem by using kidneys from miniature pigs, whose organs grow at a slower pace….Researchers engineered the pig genomes with people in mind, not non-human primates, so it’s likely that they would fare better in humans.

Earlier, the New York Post wrote about “How pigs will save thousands of human lives through organ transplants.” Last January, David Bennett, a 57-year-old man with end-stage heart disease, received a genetically modified pig heart at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The cost of a heart transplant in the US was around $1.66 million in 2022, while pig transplants cost less, about $500,000.

Even without genetic modifications, a pig kidney worked for a month in a brain-dead man it was transplanted into.

In other news, scientists recently engineered bionic silkworms that spin fibers six times stronger than Kevlar.

Other scientists recently came up with an “inverse vaccine” that has shown it can treat auto-immune diseases in a lab setting, creating hope that doctors will be able to use it to reverse devastating diseases like multiple sclerosis. But the FDA commonly takes years to approve new drugs and vaccines, so thousands will die waiting for the vaccine to be approved, even if it is perfected.

Artificial intelligence is now developing highly-effective antibodies to fight disease. Doctors overseas are using artificial intelligence to detect cases of breast cancer more effectively.

A new ultrasound therapy could help treat cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and skull implants could fight depression.

In other news, 90% of cystic fibrosis victims may get a new lease on life due to a breakthrough drug.

Artificial wombs could be coming soon, to prevent premature babies from dying or being permanently disabled due to premature life outside the womb. Doctors are already beginning to do womb transplants. A woman who was previously unable to have children recently received her sister’s womb in the first womb transplant in the United Kingdom.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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