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Find out how and which pig organs can be used in xenotransplantation

Xenotransplantation is the name given to the transplantation of organs from different species, which is only possible after undergoing genetic editing that reduces the risk of rejection in the human body. Currently, scientists have been carrying out research in pigs, where the main organs studied are the kidney and the heart.

Advancement in medicine

This type of transplant is performed in patients with kidney failure who do not have compatible donors. The porcine kidney has already been used in previous surgeries, but it was transplanted into a patient who was brain dead. However, in one case, the porcine kidney remained functioning for two months in the human body until it was removed, having been performed by the Langone Transplant Institute at New York University (NYU). At the Medical University of Maryland, in the USA, two transplants were also performed, but they took place with the pig heart organ.

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These animals have a virus that can cause serious diseases in humans, however, in 2012, a genetic editing technique “Crispr” emerged that allows it to be edited, making it possible to inactivate the porcine retrovirus. These pigs are raised in isolation to avoid the risk of infection when transplanted into a human, and genes that make the heart tissue grow uncontrollably and molecules that could cause rejection are removed.

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Brazilian doctor

It was Leonardo Riella, who led the team at “Massachussetts General Hospital” (MGH), in the USA, where the first kidney transplant was performed from a pig to a living human being; The transplant was performed on a 62-year-old American, Richard Slayman, a patient with end-stage kidney disease; the surgery lasted four hours. In 2018, Richard had undergone a traditional transplant, but after seven years on dialysis, the organ began to fail in 2023, which made him undergo a new transplant again, but this time using a kidney from a pig.

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In an interview with Lookdoctor Leonardo Riella said: “I was emotional at the announcement when I spoke about our team. It was a very intense dedication. Day and night, our team was giving their soul and a little more to make it work.”


Leonardo Riella (Photo: reproduction/ Massachusetts General Hospital/ Veja)


Leonardo, graduated from the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), has lived in the USA for 20 years where he studied resilience at Brigham and Women's Hospital. He is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, president of Harold and Ellen Danser, and a senior researcher at the Center for Transplantation Science and director of kidney transplantation at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he performed a pig kidney transplant.

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Featured photo: People in the operating room (Reproduction/ Instagram/ @massgeneraltransplant)

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Find out how and which pig organs can be used in xenotransplantation

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