New Jersey woman receives pig kidney along with mechanical heart pump | New Jersey

Doctors transplanted a pig kidney into a New Jersey woman who was near death, as part of a pair of dramatic surgeries that also stabilized her failing heart.

Lisa Pisano’s combination of heart and kidney failure left her too sick to qualify for a traditional transplant and out of options. Then doctors at NYU Langone Health came up with a novel double whammy: implanting a mechanical pump to keep her heart beating and days later transplanting a kidney from a genetically modified pig.

Pisano is recovering well, the New York University team announced Wednesday. She is only the second patient to receive a pig kidney (after a historic transplant last month at Massachusetts General Hospital) and the latest in a series of attempts to make animal-to-human transplantation a reality.

This week, the 54-year-old picked up a walker and took her first steps.

“I was at the end of my rope,” Pisano told the Associated Press. “I just took a chance. And you know, worst case scenario, if it hadn’t worked for me, it might have worked for someone else and it might have helped the next person.”

Dr. Robert Montgomery, director of the Langone Transplant Institute at New York University, recounted the applause in the operating room when the organ immediately began producing urine.

“It’s been transformative,” Montgomery said of the early results of the experiment.

But “we’re not out of the woods yet,” warned Dr. Nader Moazami, the New York University heart surgeon who implanted the heart pump.

Other transplant experts are closely watching how the patient is doing.

“I have to congratulate them,” said Dr. Tatsuo Kawai of Mass General, who noted that his own pig kidney patient was generally healthier before the operation. “When heart function is poor, it is really difficult to do a kidney transplant.”

Lisa Pisano, right, and her daughter, Brittany Harvill. Photo: AP

More than 100,000 people are on the transplant waiting list in the United States, most need a kidney, and thousands die waiting. Hoping to fill the shortage of donated organs, several biotech companies are genetically modifying pigs so that their organs look more like humans and are less likely to be destroyed by patients’ immune systems.

New York University and other research teams have temporarily transplanted pig kidneys and hearts into brain-dead cadavers, with promising results. Then the University of Maryland transplanted pig hearts into two men who had no other options, and both died within months.

The pig kidney transplant performed last month by Mass General raised new hopes. Kawai said Richard “Rick” Slayman experienced an early rejection scare, but recovered enough to return home earlier this month and is still doing well five weeks after the transplant. A recent biopsy showed no further problems.

Pisano is the first woman to receive a pig organ, and unlike previous xenotransplant experiments, both her heart and kidneys had failed. She suffered cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated before the experimental surgeries. She had become too weak to even play with her grandchildren. “I felt miserable,” said the woman from Cookstown, New Jersey.

Heart failure made her ineligible for a traditional kidney transplant. But while she was on dialysis, she also did not qualify for a heart pump, called a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD.

“It’s like being in a maze and you can’t find a way out,” Montgomery explained, until surgeons decided to combine a heart pump with a pig kidney.

With emergency permission from the Food and Drug Administration, Montgomery chose an organ from a pig genetically modified by United Therapeutics Corp so that its cells would not produce a particular sugar that is foreign to the human body and causes immediate rejection of the organ.

Plus one tweak: The donor pig’s thymus gland, which trains the immune system, was attached to the donated kidney in the hopes that it would help Pisano’s body tolerate the new organ.

Surgeons implanted an LVAD to feed Pisano’s heart on April 4 and transplanted the pig kidney on April 12. There is no way to predict his long-term outcome, but so far he has shown no signs of organ rejection, Montgomery said. And by adjusting the LVAD to work with his new kidney, Moazami said doctors have already learned lessons that could help in the future care of heart and kidney patients.

Special “compassionate use” experiments teach doctors a lot, but rigorous studies will be needed to show whether xenotransplants really work. What happens with Pisano and Mass General’s kidney recipient will undoubtedly influence the FDA’s decision to allow such trials. United Therapeutics said it hopes to start one next year.

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