BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Researchers at UAB announced the first clinical-grade transplant of gene-edited pig kidneys into a brain-dead human Thursday.
According to UAB, the peer-reviewed research outlining the successful transplant could pave the way for a new option to supply desperately needed organs.
The study, published in the American Journal of Tansplantation, shows how UAB researchers tested the first human preclinical model for transplanting genetically modified pig kidneys into humans. The study recipient, Jim Parsons, had two modified pig kidneys transplanted after his kidneys were removed.
“Along with our partners, we have made significant investments in xenotransplantation for almost a decade hoping for the kinds of results published today,” said Selwyn Vickers, M.D., dean of the UAB Heersink School of Medicine and CEO of the UAB Health System and UAB/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance. “Today’s results are a remarkable achievement for humanity and advance xenotransplant into the clinical realm.”
WATCH BELOW: Dr. Selwyn Vickers’ full comments on the successful transplant
UAB said that for the first time, the pig kidneys transplanted were taken from pigs genetically modified with 10 gene edits making the kidneys viable for humans. The kidneys remained viable until the study ended 77 hours after transplant.
“This game-changing moment in the history of medicine represents a paradigm shift and a major milestone in the field of xenotransplantation, which is arguably the best solution to the organ shortage crisis,” said Jayme Locke, M.D., director of the Comprehensive Transplant Institute in UAB’s Department of Surgery and lead surgeon for the study
UAB said the gene edits in pigs reduce rejection and made the organ transplants possible and could help the thousands who face organ failure. UAB noted evaluating the modified kidneys in a human preclincial model research could provide important information about the safety and efficacy of those kidneys in human transplant recipients, including in a trial basis.
The study was partly supported by a grant to UAB from United Therapeutics Corporation to launch the xenotransplantation program.
Breaking down the study, UAB said each stage of the xenotransplant study approximated the steps that might be taken in a phase 1 xenotansplant clinical trial.
The study recipient, 57-year-old Jim Parsons, was an organ donor through Legacy of Hope. Parsons’ family allowed UAB to maintain him on a ventilator to keep his body functioning after his organs were deemed not suitable for donation.
“Mr. Parsons and his family allowed us to replicate precisely how we would perform this transplant in a living human. Their powerful contribution will save thousands of lives, and that could begin in the very near future,” Locke said. “Mr. Parsons’ gift honors his legacy and firmly establishes the viability, safety and feasibility of this preclinical model. Because of his gift, we have proposed this to be known as ‘The Parsons Model.’”
“Jim was a never-met-a-stranger kind of guy who would talk to anyone and had no enemies—none,” Parsons’ former wife Julie O’Hara said. “Jim would have wanted to save as many people as he could with his death, and if he knew he could potentially save thousands and thousands of people by doing this, he would have had no hesitation. Our dream is that no other person dies waiting for a kidney, and we know that Jim is very proud that his death could potentially bring so much hope to others.”