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  • Posted May 13, 2024

First Pig Kidney Recipient Dies Almost Two Months After Transplant

Rick Slayman, the first person to receive a kidney transplant from a genetically modified pig, has died nearly two months after having the historic surgery.

In a statement released Saturday, Slayman's family said they were "deeply saddened about the sudden passing of our beloved Rick but take great comfort knowing he inspired so many. Millions of people worldwide have come to know Rick's story. We felt -- and still feel -- comforted by the optimism he provided patients desperately waiting for a transplant."

"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," they added. "Rick accomplished that goal and his hope and optimism will endure forever.”

The doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital who performed the transplant procedure said in the same statement that they were also "deeply saddened at the sudden passing of Mr. Rick Slayman. We have no indication that it was the result of his recent transplant. Mr. 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.”

Slayman's transplant journey began in late March, when he first received a kidney from a genetically modified pig. The 62-year-old was released from the hospital just two weeks later because he was faring so well.

“This moment -- leaving the hospital today with one of the cleanest bills of health I've had in a long time -- is one I wished would come for many years. Now, it's a reality and one of the happiest moments of my life," Slayman said in a statement at the time.

"I'm excited to resume spending time with my family, friends and loved ones, free from the burden of dialysis that has affected my quality of life for many years," he added. "Lastly, I want to thank anyone who has seen my story and sent well-wishes, especially patients waiting for a kidney transplant. Today marks a new beginning not just for me, but for them, as well.”

Experts agreed.

“Though much work remains to be done, I think the potential of this to benefit a large number of patients will be realized, and that was a question mark hovering over the field,” Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer for the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), told the New York Times.

While two previous organ transplants from genetically modified pigs had failed, Slayman's new kidney produced urine and removed waste products from the blood, his doctors said after the surgery.

After the transplant was completed, Dr. Winfred Williams, associate chief of the nephrology division at MGH and Slayman's primary kidney doctor, hailed his patient's “courageousness in becoming a trailblazer in the field of transplantation.”

The pig kidney came from eGenesis, a Cambridge, Mass., company that has been experimenting with genetic alterations to make pig organs transplantable to humans.

Last year, eGenesis reported in the journal Nature that a monkey had been living with one of its transplanted pig kidneys for two years.

The kidney Slayman received had 69 genetic edits that removed harmful pig genes and added helpful human genes, researchers said. Scientists also inactivated retroviruses in the pig donor to eliminate any risk of infection in humans.

Slayman is Black, and Black patients tend to suffer high rates of end-stage kidney disease, the Times reported.

These genetically altered pig kidneys represent a “potential breakthrough in solving one of the more intractable problems in our field, that being unequal access for ethnic minority patients to the opportunity for kidney transplants due to the extreme donor organ shortage and other system-based barriers,” Williams said.

Slayman had been living with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure for years, doctors said. He received a kidney transplant from a human donor in December 2018, but the organ began to fail after five years and he resumed dialysis in May 2023.

He'd since been in and out of the hospital regularly, due to complications stemming from his dialysis, doctors said.

More than 100,000 people in the United States are awaiting an organ for transplant, according to the UNOS. About 17 people die each day for want of a donor organ.

Kidneys are the most common organs needed for transplant, doctors said. End-stage kidney disease rates are expected to increase from 29% to 68% in the United States by 2030.

“At MGH alone, there are over 1,400 patients on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. Some of these patients will unfortunately die or get too sick to be transplanted due to the long waiting time on dialysis. I am firmly convinced that xenotransplantation represents a promising solution to the organ shortage crisis,” said Dr. Leonardo Riella, MGH medical director for kidney transplantation.

Slayman's procedure was performed under a compassionate use waiver granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February, doctors said.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about kidney transplantation.

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news releases, May 11, 2024, April 3, 2024, March 21, 2024; New York Times

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