Pig Heart Transplant Recipient Reaches 2-Week Milestone, Hope for Kidney Patients


Xenotransplantation company United Therapeutics Corporation is making significant headway in using genetically modified animal organs as a replacement for failing organs in humans. This morning, the company announced major milestones in heart and kidney transplants with organs from a genetically-modified pig.

Maryland-based United Therapeutics said a patient who received a genetically modified pig heart reached a two-week post-transplant milestone. Physicians from the University of Maryland School of Medicine have reported continued post-operative cardiovascular improvement in the patient with normal organ function.

But it isn’t only a heart patient benefiting from organ transplants from genetically modified pigs. Today, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham published data in the American Journal of Transplantation regarding a preclinical model of United Therapeutics’ UKidney. According to the company, the study is the first such data published in a peer-reviewed journal.

In the UAB study, the research team successfully transplanted two genetically modified pig kidneys into the abdomen of a brain-dead human individual after removing his native kidneys. According to UAB, the transplanted kidneys filtered blood, produced urine and, even more importantly, were accepted by the host.

“We have this amazing therapy called kidney transplantation that works 95% to 98% of the time, and yet there are only about 25,000 kidneys to go around in the U.S. every year, but we have 800,000 people who need them. The hardest part is seeing patients in the clinic and wait-listing them knowing they might actually die before I ever get an organ offer to transplant them,” Dr. Jayme Locke, director of the Division of Transplantation at the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, said in a statement. “So the opportunity to have an organ that is waiting there for the person who needs it is just overwhelming to think about. I feel very privileged to be just a tiny part of a really big puzzle that people have been working on for many years.”

The successes at these two schools of medicine are not the only positive stories coming out of the United Therapeutics xenotransplantation program. In September, researchers at New York University Langone Health posted positive preclinical data supporting the company’s UThymoKidney asset that proved for the first time that the company’s GalSafe pig could, as modified, “transcend the most proximate immunological barriers to xenotransplantation,” the company said. The GalSafe pig was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for human food and as a potential source for biomedical use in December 2020. The pig is typically considered the most suitable donor animal for humans.

Martine A. Rothblatt, Ph.D., chairperson and chief executive officer of United Therapeutics Corporation, called these breakthrough announcements “enormously satisfying.”

“At UT, we are relentlessly pursuing our goal of producing an unlimited supply of transplantable organs from xenotransplantation, regenerative medicine, and 3D bioprinting technology, and we expect to make additional breakthrough announcements in each of these fields in the coming years. Indeed, we have commenced work on a large clinical-quality organ facility to support upcoming UHeart and UKidney clinical trials,” Rothblatt said in a statement.

Not only is United Therapeutics enthusiastic about the future of xenotransplantation, but the company is also making improvements on the delivery of genetically-modified organs. In October 2021, United Therapeutics delivered a transplanted lung by electric drone at Toronto General Hospital. The company said this demonstrated its capabilities of providing life-saving organs with zero carbon footprint aircraft.

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