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First patient to get gene-edited pig kidney transplant dies

The pig kidney used for the transplant was provided by a Massachusetts biotech company called eGenesis. (Massachusetts General Hospital/AP pic)

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2024 (AFP) – The first living patient to receive a genetically modified pig kidney transplant has died two months after the procedure, the US hospital that carried it out said.

“Mass General is deeply saddened at the sudden passing of Mr. Rick Slayman. We have no indication that it was the result of his recent transplant,” the Boston hospital said in a statement issued late Saturday.

In a world first, surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital in March successfully transplanted the genetically edited pig kidney into Slayman, who was 62 years old at the time and suffering from end-stage kidney disease.

“Slayman will forever be seen as a beacon of hope to countless transplant patients worldwide and we are deeply grateful for his trust and willingness to advance the field of xenotransplantation,” the hospital statement said.

Organ shortages are a chronic problem around the world and Mass General said in March that there were more than 1,400 patients on its waiting list for a kidney transplant.

The pig kidney used for the transplant was provided by a Massachusetts biotech company called eGenesis and had been modified to remove harmful pig genes and add certain human genes, according to the hospital.

Slayman, who suffered from Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, had received a transplanted human kidney in 2018, but it began to fail five years later.

‘He inspired so many’

When the hospital announced the successful transplant in March, Slayman said he had agreed to the procedure “not only as a way to help (him), but a way to provide hope for the thousands of people who need a transplant to survive.”

In a statement posted on Mass General’s website, his family said while they were “deeply saddened about the sudden passing of our beloved Rick” they took “great comfort knowing he inspired so many.”

The family said they were “comforted by the optimism he provided patients desperately waiting for a transplant”.

More than 89,000 patients were on the national kidney waiting list as of March this year, according to a US health department website.

On average, 17 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant.

Slayman’s family also thanked the doctors “who truly did everything they could to help give Rick a second chance. Their enormous efforts leading the xenotransplant gave our family seven more weeks with Rick, and our memories made during that time will remain in our minds and hearts.”

“After his transplant, Rick said that one of the reasons he underwent this procedure was to provide hope for the thousands of people who need a transplant to survive,” the family added.

“His legacy will be one that inspires patients, researchers, and health care professionals.”

Xenotransplantation

The transplantation of organs from one species to another is a growing field known as xenotransplantation.

About a month after Slayman’s procedure, surgeons at NYU Langone Health in New York carried out a similar transplant on Lisa Pisano, who had suffered heart failure and end-stage kidney disease.

Pig kidneys had been transplanted previously into brain-dead patients, but Slayman was the first living person to receive one.

Genetically modified pig hearts were transplanted in 2023 into two patients at the University of Maryland, but both lived less than two months.

Mass General said Slayman’s transplant had been carried out under a policy known as “compassionate use” that allows patients with “serious or life-threatening conditions” to access experimental therapies not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.