For decades, scientists have been trying to figure out an alternative to conventional organ transplants due to the overwhelming need for human organs. With advancements in technology, a few experiments have been conducted with pig organs as an alternative, but mostly on brain-dead patients for safety. The exceptional pig-heart transplant on a living patient was unsuccessful, as the patient died shortly after the transplant. However, just recently, surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital transplanted a pig kidney into a 62-year-old living patient, Richard Slayman. National Guard Kidney Transplant 099This surgery may be the first successful example of pig organ transplantation of many to come in the future, as he is expected to be discharged from the hospital soon. Slayman, who is recovering well after the kidney transplantation, sees his surgery not only as a way to help himself but also to provide hope for thousands of people in need of a transplant. Slayman has been on dialysis for the previous seven years after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure before a human kidney transplant in 2018, which showed signs of failure just five years later, restarting dialysis in 2023 and causing serious health problems. With the massive population in need of a human kidney, Slayman couldn’t have survived the wait time, according to his doctor Winfred Williams. The opportunity to receive a pig kidney became Slayman’s only hope as he later consented to the operation. Biotechnology company eGenesis uses the gene-editing system CRISPR to tweak the genes of pigs to make the pig organs suitable for people. With a total of 69 genetic edits in the pig’s DNA, the scientists took out sections of pig genes that the human immune system attacks and added seven human genes that help prevent immune-related problems possible of causing transplant rejection. In addition, they also disabled endogenous retroviruses in pigs’ genomes as they can hurt humans. This CRISPR technology has always been used in recent years to produce a solution to treat sickle cell disease, first approved in the U.K. and later in the U.S. in December 2023. CRISPR technologies have also been used to modify immune cells to attack tumors and cancerous cells in personalized cancer treatments. The apparent success of Slayman’s surgery represents not only a breakthrough in organ transplantation but also a potential solution to solving the unequal access for ethnic minorities to organ transplants and resources due to organ shortage and other problems. This connects to what we’ve learned in AP Biology on how different blood types can only receive blood donations of certain other blood types for their antigens exhibited. Carrying this to organ transplants means for some blood types, it’s extremely hard to find a matching organ for transplant. With this CRISPR pig kidney transplant marks a breakthrough in solving this problem. If you were to face an organ transplant, would you want to wait for years for a matching human organ or take the risk for a CRISPR pig organ?


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