For the first time, surgeons in the U.S. transplanted a pig's kidney into a human without triggering immediate rejection by the patient's immune system.

According to Reuters, the medical advancement could pave the way to help thousands of people in need of human organs for transplant each year.

Pig Kidney Transplant in a Human Patient

The two-hour procedure, called xenotransplantation, was done at NYU Langone Health in New York City on September 25. It reportedly involved the use of a pig whose genes had been altered.

Researchers had removed a molecule in pig's tissues that was known to trigger almost immediate rejection. The recipient of the pig's kidney was a brain-dead patient with signs of kidney dysfunction.

The researchers told Reuters that the patient's family consented to the experiment before she was due to be taken off of life support.

Based on the report, the pig's kidney was attached to the patient's blood vessels and maintained outside her body, allowing the researchers to access the animal's organ for three days.

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Surgeons Successfully Test Pig Kidney Transplant in Human

Transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led the study, said the transplanted kidney's function test results looked "normal."

Montgomery noted that the body was producing levels of urine that you would expect from a transplanted human kidney, and there were no signs of the body rejecting the organ. 

Montgomery added that the patient's abnormal creatinine level, which was a sign of poor kidney function, returned to normal after the transplant.

In a statement, Chad Ezzell, a chief clinical officer of LiveOnNY, said the research is "an incredible scientific achievement." LiveOnNY is a non-profit organization that facilitates organ and tissue donation in New York City, CBS News reported.

Ezzell noted that this latest report "will give new hope to those on our waitlist as this important research moves forward."

In the U.S., almost 107,000 individuals are currently waiting for organ transplants. Around 90,000 of them were waiting for a kidney organ. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, the average waiting time for a kidney is three to five years.

Researchers have been working for decades on the possibility of using animal organs for transplants, but the immediate rejection by the human body impedes it.

Montgomery's team believed that knocking out the pig gene for a carbohydrate that triggers rejection, a sugar molecule, or glycan called alpha-gal, would prevent the problem.

The genetically altered pig, dubbed GalSafe, was developed by United Therapeutics Corp's Revivicor unit. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it in December 2020 for use as food for people with a meat allergy and as a potential source of human therapeutics. 

Medical products developed from the pigs would still require specific FDA approval before their usage to humans. Other researchers were considering if GalSafe pigs could be sources of everything from heart valves to skin grafts for human patients.

Montgomery said researchers could possibly conduct their transplant in a living person "in the next year or two." He also believes "it will eventually be perfected to the point" it will be an alternative to a human organ.

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Written by: Jess Smith

WATCH: Surgeon Transplants a Pig's Kidney Into a Brain-Dead Human in Groundbreaking Surgery - From USA TODAY