Pig kidneys show promise for healthy transplant

Image copyright btp Image caption Sophiska University says the health authorities are happy with the results A transplant of pig kidneys – made up from cells collected from aborted foetuses – has been successfully…

Pig kidneys show promise for healthy transplant

Image copyright btp Image caption Sophiska University says the health authorities are happy with the results

A transplant of pig kidneys – made up from cells collected from aborted foetuses – has been successfully tested on a woman who had lost the NHS chance of a transplant.

Sophiska University in Brazil says the woman is now “better off than ever”.

The transplants are a first for Brazil, and not yet available to the wider world.

This could, it says, be because Brazil has limited funds, which may dissuade others from taking a gamble on a now seriously experimental procedure.

Family member

There is no reason to believe that the liver, lung or intestine cannot be converted from animal into human organs without it suffering fatal effects.

However, surgeons were able to graft the pig kidney cells to the donated liver, and apparently effectively worked out how to grow it on the person it came from.

The pig organs are produced by interspecies cloning. However, they contain cells that are normally present in the human organ, so would be rejected by the body.

So they need to be shut down so they remain viable.

A two-year trial has found this can be done by adding in very few nutrients.

The pig’s kidneys are then simply loaded with the human cells they belong to, and the kidneys could then start growing.

Investing in the pigs is expensive, and also involves periodic, highly invasive procedures to sterilise the donor body.

The pig’s kidneys could also be extremely labour-intensive to harvest – but also provide a critically-needed source of emergency cadaver kidneys.

Investment in technology

While the liver was picked for the first test as it was already already an uncertified donor body, the liver was considered best because it was already in working order, and could be kept cold for a lengthy period of time.

Sophiska University says that the most common donor body in Brazil is the uterus. So if this proves successful, it could be used instead.

There has been initial interest, but no hasty decision has been made to put it to the wider market, the university said.

This case was made possible by collaboration with the National Kidney Foundation and the Ministry of Health, and with his own bank of donor kidneys.

Dr Jorge Abad, paediatric nephrologist at the school of medicine at Departamento Autonomico Atlantico-Navegante, explained that the partner’s risk of getting kidney disease if they were in the early stages of a pregnancy is very low.

“The only risk is that the donor’s body may reject the organ, like in the case of a donor chimpanzee.”

A new animal

The transplant was carried out on 18 September 2016, when she was 38 and in hospital with the expectant mother of her daughter.

“My granddaughter had just given birth and I was at home with her,” says the daughter, who is now 15 and didn’t want to be named.

“When she was going to the bathroom and passing urine, she stopped and started crying,” she recalls.

“I told her what was wrong and she told me a doctor told her she had end-stage renal failure.

“I wasn’t impressed with the diagnosis, but my mother kept saying that she didn’t want to go into the hospital again.

“I insisted and she told me she wanted a kidney donor.

“She went to the clinic, and had two kidney surgeries.

“The doctors just told her to wait until she was 36, and by then she’d be in her early 50s and there was no way she was giving away her kidneys to a child.”

When her mother contacted the hospital again two years later, it emerged that they had been led to believe that she was in her 30s.

With the need even greater and her daughter apparently having need of a kidney, her daughter decided to look into alternative options.

Sophiska University approached her mother again – and within days her kidney had been transplanted.

‘Better off’

“The results were better than anyone could expect,” says Sebastiéus, who has the research alias Xevi in Brazil.

“My mother gained a normal life and my baby got a better life than any of the children I used to know.”

He says more test children are waiting.

“If this is successful, then there is the potential to revolutionise the transplant system in the western world.”

First Published: Mar 08, 2021 18:04 IST

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