Transplantation of a pig kidney on a human: “It is a major hope”, analyzes a specialist

The transplant of a pig kidney on a human represents “a major hope” for scientists working on transplants, estimated on Franceinfo Thursday, October 21, Professor Olivier Bastien, transplant expert and former director of the organ harvesting and transplant activity at the Biomedicine Agency. On September 25, an operation of this type indeed took place in a hospital in New York in the United States, which is a world first.

This pig kidney, genetically modified to prevent rejection by the body, was connected to the blood vessels of a brain-dead patient. It worked well for two and a half days in a human, including producing urine.

franceinfo: Does this world premiere represent the future of transplantation?

Olivier Bastien: This is one of the hopes, maybe not the only one, but it is a major hope. It has long been known that transplantation is one of the main avenues for matching the needs and possibilities of transplants. Considerable advances have been made, in particular the possibility of modifying certain genes, to make the transplant undetectable by the immune system. Many teams have been working on this research project for several years, in Asia, because there is no possibility of taking samples from deceased people, as in France and the United States. China, Japan and South Korea are way ahead of these transplant research agendas, especially for things that are less visible, like the cornea.

Are such experiments possible in France?

France is working a lot on the experimental and fundamental levels. She is also a French [Emmanuelle Charpentier] which is at the origin of a system which makes it possible to modify genes, applied to transplants. But, after the mad cow episode, clinical research on transplantation was stopped.

Can we imagine pig farms for the sole purpose of grafting?

Absolutely, a few years ago there was even the beginning of the constitution of a “germ free” farm. The pig must not only be immunologically compatible, but it must also be guaranteed to be free of any microbes. This therefore requires very specific breeding conditions, in an almost sterile manner. This is one of the issues.

Are there still people dying while waiting for a kidney?

Yes, people die from all of the diseases that lead to kidney failure. The kidney and heart are major research subjects, because transplants of cœur have declined over the past two years. There are great needs, not to mention that the transplant activity fell by 25% during the health crisis. We will catch up to the previous level but the needs also require moving towards other types of transplant. We are of course trying to develop kidney transplants with living donors, because we do not have enough recourse to it, but for the cœur this is not possible. It will therefore require other solutions, such as the cœartificial heart but also xenograft.

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