World’s first pig kidney transplant recipient dies

The first successful treatment of a genetically modified pig kidney transplanted into a human recipient is considered a medical milestone and a success, even though the recipient tragically died.

In a statement from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where 62-year-old Richard “Rick” Slayman underwent the landmark procedure, the surgical team said his death was not thought to be due to kidney failure.

“The Mass General Transplant Group is deeply saddened by the sudden death of Mr. Rick Slayman,” the MGH statement read. “We have no indication that this was the result of his recent transplant. Mr. Slayman will forever be seen as a beacon of hope for countless transplant patients around the world, and we are deeply grateful for his faith and desire to advance the field of xenotransplantation.”

Slayman with his surgical team (left to right) Dr. Nahel Elias, Dr. Tatsuo Kawai and Dr. Leo Riella


We covered the exciting news from his March 16 surgery, where the patient and team raved about how well it went. Slayman was able to walk days after receiving his new kidney, which was predicted to give him two years of function. After seeing complications from a 2018 human kidney transplant cleared last year, he was able to leave the debilitating dialysis treatment he receives three times a week. Slayman had end-stage kidney disease and developed heart failure.

The cause of death has not yet been announced, but his family said in a statement that the breakthrough surgery was a positive result in the advancement of xenotransplantation. Scientists believe that genetically modified non-human animal organ transplants can successfully overcome the critical shortage of human organs.

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About 90,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in the United States, and many die before one is available.

“After his transplant, one of the reasons Rick underwent the procedure was to give hope to the thousands of people who need life-saving transplants,” Slayman’s family said in the statement. “Rick accomplished that goal, and his faith and hope will live on forever. His legacy will be one that inspires patients, researchers and health care professionals everywhere.”

eGenesis, a Boston biotech company that transplanted his pig kidney, replaced the matching genes and disabled retroviruses carried by the animals, and paid tribute to Slayman.

“Mr. Slayman was a true pioneer,” eGenesis posted on social media on May 11. “His courage helped pave the way for current and future patients with kidney failure.

On April 12, New Jersey woman Lisa Pisano, 54, who suffered from heart and kidney failure, became the second successful recipient of a genetically modified pig kidney. It came a week after she had a mechanical heart implant. In this case, the kidney he inherited had only one genetic mutation.

Slayman’s family insists the ‘life-extending’ surgery was a gift – both to his loved ones and to the growing number of xenotransplants.

“Our family is deeply saddened by the sudden passing of our beloved Rick, but deeply comforted knowing that he inspired so many,” they added. “Millions of people around the world know Rick’s story. We felt — and still feel — the hope he gave to patients desperately waiting for a transplant.”

“To us, Rick was a kind man with a great sense of humor who was devoted to his family, friends and colleagues,” they continued, thanking the dedicated team that performed the surgery. “Their tremendous efforts led to the xenotransplant, and our family got seven more weeks with Rick, and our memories of that time will be in our minds and hearts.”

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This was echoed by the MGH team, which added: “We extend our heartfelt condolences to Mr. Slayman’s family and loved ones as they remember an extraordinary man whose generosity and kindness touched all who knew him.”

Source: MGH

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