Correspondent in New York
“Personally, this is a dream for me,” said Robert Montgomery on Thursday, who became the most talked about doctor in the world after get to work the kidney of a pig in a human. He did not say it because of his immediate celebrity, but because transplants are close to him. His father was denied a heart transplant in 1975, when he was 50 years old, because he was too old. His father, like other members of his family, suffered from genetic heart disease, and several of them died young. The Montgomery himself has a transplanted heart, after having been on the verge of death on several occasions.
“This advance represents a new hope that the future will be different for my children and for anyone who is waiting for a lifesaving organ”; he said from New York in a media meeting about his experiment, which occurred in late September. A 66-year-old patient, in a state of brain death, was connected to a kidney of a genetically modified pig to avoid rejection of the human immune system. The test lasted 52 hours, an appropriate time determined by an ethics committee at NYU Langone, the New York hospital where it was performed. “The kidney of the pig worked the same as that of a transplanted human,” he explained.
Montgomery has insisted that animals, especially pigs, are the solution to the shortage of human organs needed for transplants. His experiment has been greeted with enthusiasm in the scientific community, but also with doubts. Montgomery himself acknowledged this Thursday that “The study does not provide answers on the long-term compatibility and functionality of the transplanted animal organ.”
Despite this, he predicted that there will be a complete transplant, from a pig to a living human – in his experiment the kidney was attached to the blood vessels of the patient, who was in a state of brain death, externally – within a period of time. short: “Within a year or two.”
The great news from her experiment is that the patient’s body did not unleash an immediate and aggressive immune response against the pig’s kidney. The reason was that the animal was genetically modified to eliminate a sugar molecule in its cells that disappeared from the human body during evolution and that would cause that reaction. To questions from this newspaper, Montgomery acknowledged that the patient was also administered conventional immunosuppressive drugs “to avoid another type of reaction, not from human antibodies, but at the cellular level.”
The doctor assured that, although primates are more compatible with the human body to xenotransplantation – organ transplants between species-, pigs are more promising: “They are easier to raise, they give more offspring, they are easier to genetically modify, they grow faster and the size of the organs is more similar to that of humans.” In addition, they can have a compatible blood type and are already used for medical purposes, such as heart valves.
Regarding the risk of contagion of congenital retrovirus in the pig, which could jump to human cells, Montgomery defended that it is “extremely small” and that tissue from pigs is already used on a regular basis -as in the aforementioned heart valves- without contagion having occurred. Despite this, all the medical equipment that participated in the experiment has been subjected to tests to ensure that there was no infection.
In the long term, Montgomery’s optimism skyrockets. He considers that «all the transplants that are done right now between humans they can be made with pig organs ». The most compatible is the kidney, but the heart is not far behind. More complicated are the liver and lungs. “But I think that in ten years we are transplanting all of them with organs from pigs.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism