One genetically modified pig kidney was transplanted, for the second time in history, in a patient in which a heart pump was simultaneously installed, in an innovative combination that constitutes a new step for a field that has been making leaps and bounds in recent years.

Xenotransplantation – transplanting animal tissue into humans – could be a solution to the chronic shortage of organs and give hope to tens of thousands of people on waiting lists for a compatible transplant.

We combined two wonders of modern medicine in a new way“said Dr. Robert Montgomery of NYU Langone Hospital in New York at a press conference.

As he said, “is another important step in our journey to make vital organs available to all those who need them».

The patient, Laiza Pisano, aged 54, suffered from heart and kidney failure. She could not be fitted with a heart pump because the mortality rate is too high for people on dialysis. But she also had such levels of antibodies that it would take years before a compatible kidney could be found for her. Because of her heart condition, she had only a few weeks left to live, as doctors estimated.

I tried everything (…) so when this opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it,” said Pisano herself, who hails from New Jersey. “I thought, worst case scenario, if it doesn’t go well, maybe it will work on the next patient“, she added, speaking from her hospital bed and warmly thanking her family, doctors and nurses.

The operation to install the heart pump took place on the 4th of April and the kidney transplant on the 12th of the month. About two weeks later, there is no sign of rejection of the organ, Dr. Montgomery said.

Xenotransplants are challenging because the recipient’s immune system tends to attack the foreign organ. The pig kidney was genetically modified to reduce this risk. Moreover, for the first time, the pig’s thymus gland, an organ that plays a crucial role in the immune system, was also transplanted.

Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston announced in March that it had performed the first xenotransplantation of a kidney in a living patient.

Previous transplants of genetically modified kidneys had been done in clinically dead patients. Dr. Montgomery estimated that these operations are the harbinger of wider clinical trials that will be “much faster than we thought».