First Man to Receive Pig Kidney Transplant Dies Two Months Post-Procedure

Written by Camilla Jessen

May.13 - 2024 1:41 PM CET

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Photo: Shutterstock.com
Photo: Shutterstock.com
The first living person to receive a kidney from a genetically modified pig has died two months after the procedure.

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Richard "Rick" Slayman, the first living recipient of a kidney from a genetically modified pig, has passed away two months after undergoing the groundbreaking transplant.

Despite his death, doctors at the Massachusetts hospital where the procedure was performed have stated that the pig kidney transplant did not cause his death.

The cause of Slayman's passing has not been specified, according to the hospital's announcement on Facebook.

A History of Health Issues

At 62 years old, Slayman had been battling type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure for many years and had been on dialysis before receiving a human kidney transplant in 2008. Unfortunately, about five years later, he returned to dialysis when the transplanted kidney began to fail.

Given the complications from dialysis, doctors suggested the experimental pig kidney transplant, which was expected to last at least two years.

A Potential Milestone in Medical Science

This operation marked a significant step in medical science, particularly in the field of xenotransplantation, where organs from one species are transplanted into another.

Slayman's procedure, which took place in March, was previously only performed on brain-dead individuals and represented an experimental attempt to address organ shortages.

Henrik Birn, a professor and senior physician in kidney diseases at Aarhus University Hospital, referred to the operation as potentially a "milestone" for kidney patients globally.

However, he emphasized the experimental nature of the procedure and noted that its long-term success could not be assessed until months or years later.

The challenge of xenotransplantation lies in the human immune system's tendency to reject foreign animal tissue.

To mitigate this, the pigs used in these transplants have been genetically modified to make their organs more closely resemble those of humans. In addition to the kidney, Slayman's transplant included the pig's thymus gland, intended to help "train" his immune system to accept the new organ.

Following Slayman's pioneering procedure, Lisa Pisano from New Jersey became the second person to receive a kidney from a genetically modified pig, also receiving a mechanical pump to support her heart function. This was the first instance of a patient having both a pig kidney and a mechanical heart pump implanted simultaneously.

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