Pig kidney transplants: Live organ transplants successful in Syria

Written by By Siheun Lee, CNN

Deir Al-Zour, Syria — Thanks to the ingenuity of an Egyptian surgeon, a three-month-old pig kidney transplanted into a dead woman has successfully survived its first tests.

Alexei Batra, head of a Cairo-based hospital, has developed a way to develop living tissue in a pig, and culture human tissue inside a pig’s body for transplant.

There was a risk of the pig’s kidney not surviving. Pigs are carnivores, so any infection, from a virus, that would normally kill a human being in a matter of hours, would likely also kill the pig’s organ, says Batra.

Speaking to CNN, he said: “There are many times when these transplant operations fail, sometimes days later the life is gone, sometimes weeks and even years later, so the risk of death was very low. We have never encountered any such complications.”

The testing period involved six weeks of intensive care treatment for the pig, which was set on fire and had to be resuscitated. Batra then had to apply a solution of cells of pigs, cotton wool and growth factors to the pig in a study conducted by CURE Belgium in the Netherlands, whereby rat kidney transplants are typically done by injecting the donor’s blood.

The cells are then massaged into the wound. The procedure was approved by the French Agency for Food and Drug Safety (AIFA) in February.

The pig born with a live human kidney last year was born at a Cairo hospital. This photo shows the pig as a newborn (left). Courtesy Ayman Saleh, 1560 News/COP24

“This procedure has several advantages, including the fact that we transferred the human cells from another donor to the blood of a pig and we transferred live human cells to the pig’s blood. This is very critical, we actually transplant human cells into the human blood, like transplants would normally be done in a live human body,” said Batra.

“There is a long history of immunological cooperation between humans and pigs, and it is quite a normal technology.”

The procedure uses an “elastin filter” which strips out the pig’s body fat to extract cells. This report outlines how pig cells “grow together in a jelly-like substance” inside the pig. 1560 News

The using live human cells in pig cells is likely to lead to shorter waiting lists for transplants, says Batra.

Health data

A man (left) and a woman (right) at a clinic in northwestern Syria. Syria’s blood donations rate is one of the lowest in the world, said a senior medical official in January. Cvetomir Kiyaelov, the deputy chairman of Syria’s National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS), told The Associated Press on Jan. 8 that organ donors in Syria were extremely rare.

Syrians are suffering from a low blood donation rate , said the official. Source: Ufotunganews

Ritesh Batra said the volunteer patients involved in the trial were “clinically stable” when they arrived in the hospital.

The test was done using an aforated kidney from a deceased woman, which surgeons had extracted from her body. Two years ago, it was still alive when it was transplanted into the woman. Courtesy Andrew Heilemann, 1560 News

The baby’s parents “were aware that their baby was having a live pig organ transplant,” said Batra. “But they didn’t know about the difficulties of this procedure.”

The infant had a healthy, active growing pig kidney for a month after the procedure, said Batra. But in that time, the pig kidney also developed immune systems and so killed the baby.

Biomedical scientist Jorge Montoya, currently based in the U.S., was the first to use live pig kidneys in a human transplant. He came up with this procedure in 1992, according to CNN.

The surgery was performed in Alicante, Spain. Montoya is the father of Omar Montoya, who underwent surgery for his lung and diabetes years ago. The organ was transferred from the pig to the 25-year-old in 2004. Montoya’s treatment was the first for a patient with diabetes and lung disease, according to CNN.

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