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The experiment demonstrated that pig livers could potentially be used for human transplants in the future.
Science & Health

The experiment demonstrated that pig livers could potentially be used for human transplants in the future.

A team of scientists from the University of Pennsylvania have connected a pig liver to a human body that was no longer functioning and observed its successful filtration of blood. This study marks progress towards potentially using this method on patients with liver failure. It is also a unique approach to animal-to-human organ transplants, also known as xenotransplantation, as the pig liver was utilized externally rather than being placed inside the donated body. This is part of ongoing efforts to improve treatment for failing livers, similar to how dialysis is used for failing kidneys.

Surgeons externally attached a pig liver to a brain-dead human body and watched it successfully filter blood, a step toward eventually trying the technique in patients with liver failure.

On Thursday, the University of Pennsylvania revealed a new experiment that alters the traditional method of animal-to-human organ transplants. Instead of placing the pig liver inside the donated body, it was utilized externally as a “bridge” to assist failing livers by performing the blood-cleansing function externally, similar to how dialysis helps failing kidneys.

Attempts to transplant animal organs into humans, also known as xenotransplants, have been unsuccessful for many years due to the rejection of foreign tissue by the human immune system. However, researchers are now making another attempt using pigs that have been genetically altered to have more human-like organs.

Recently, there have been cases of temporary kidney transplants from genetically modified pigs into brain-dead donors in order to test their functionality. Additionally, two individuals received heart transplants from pigs, but unfortunately passed away within a few months.

The possibility of permitting a select group of Americans who require organ transplants to participate in thorough investigations of pig hearts or kidneys is being examined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

FILE — This photo provided by eGenesis on Jan. 18, 2024, shows a genetically modified pig liver in Massachusetts before transportation to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in December 2023. (eGenesis via AP)

On January 18, 2024, eGenesis released a photo of a pig liver that had been genetically modified in Massachusetts. The liver was later transported to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in December 2023.

Certain scientists are also exploring the potential of utilizing pig livers. Unlike kidneys and hearts, livers have unique intricacies: they purify blood, eliminate waste, and generate necessary substances for other bodily processes. Currently, approximately 10,000 individuals in the United States are awaiting a liver transplant.

During the Penn experiment, scientists connected a liver from a genetically engineered pig, created by eGenesis, to a device produced by OrganOx. This device is typically used to preserve human livers before they are transplanted.

The relatives of the deceased individual, whose organs were not deemed suitable for donation, allowed their body to be used for research purposes. Machines were utilized to maintain the circulation of the body’s blood.

Last month, a study was performed in which blood was passed through a pig liver-device for a duration of 72 hours. According to a statement from the Penn team, the donor’s body remained stable and the pig liver did not exhibit any signs of harm.

Dr. Parsia Vagefi from UT Southwestern Medical Center, who was not involved in the recent experiment but closely monitors xenotransplantation research, stated that significant effort has been put towards creating liver dialysis-like machines and conducting experiments with pig livers in the past, before the use of modern genetic techniques.

“I commend them for moving this idea forward,” stated Vagefi, noting that the pig-device combination approach is a promising advancement in improving treatment for liver failure.