Robert Montgomery, a New York transplant surgeon, conducted a successful surgery that transplanted a pig’s kidney into a brain-dead human.
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Pigs, whose organs are about the right size and can be bred easily and quickly, offer a promising alternative for organ transplants.
But before tying a person’s fate to a pig’s organ, Montgomery, head of the Transplant Institute at NYU Langone Health, wanted to prove that the procedure wouldn’t trigger an immediate immune attack.
Jumping the species barrier is perilous. In 1984, after years of study, Leonard Bailey, a transplant surgeon at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, thought he had overcome the immune system’s rapid rejection of foreign organs.
He transplanted a baboon heart into a 12-day-old baby born with a deformed heart. Nicknamed “Baby Fae,” she died 21 days later because her blood type was incompatible with the monkey’s.
Though unsuccessful, the experience was pathbreaking. The next year, Bailey performed the first human-to-human heart transplant in a baby. Bailey died in 2019 at age 76; many of his transplant patients have outlived him.
Montgomery’s pig had Type O blood, which made it a universal donor. The surgery was funded by a $3.2 million grant from United Therapeutics, a biotechnology company based in Silver Spring, Maryland, involved in treatments for lung disease.
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