Written by By Laura Hatton, for CNN
More details are emerging about the successful pig kidney transplant that took place on Wednesday in Spain. Although a 10-patient clinical trial has been ongoing for several years in similar experiments, this is the first procedure ever carried out in Spain, the country in which the trial began.
The trial, carried out by the San Antonio University Hospital in Valladolid, was led by Dr. Tim Leslie, the lead author of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2015.
The majority of the kidney transplant patients had suffered from end-stage renal disease, which was most likely caused by hepatitis, kidney failure, hypertension or hepatitis C, said Leslie, who is the co-chair of the Transplantation Engineering and Medicine Association Steering Committee.
The conditions often meant that dialysis treatments were required, which meant that the patient had to be hospitalized every day.
The first patient undergoing the procedure, a 34-year-old woman from Comoro island, underwent the procedure on Wednesday.
What is a pig kidney?
The animals are raised for their meat, eggs and milk, and therefore provide a far higher yield of organs than those being used in domestic livestock. By its sheer size and density, pig kidney plays a leading role in the amount of protein produced per kilogram of meat; other organs fare much worse.
At the time of the transplantation, the patient was on dialysis five days a week for around nine hours a day, Leslie said.
“Dialysis in the United States is now one of the most successful treatment regimens for advanced-stage renal disease,” according to a recent article in America’s Health.
“It’s much easier and faster to get a kidney from a pig, because a pig kidney is already living. After transplantation, you can start dialysis while the patient is still alive,” Leslie told CNN.
Dr. Tim Leslie, the team’s lead author, says the test success is an important step forward for health care. Credit: Antonio Calanni
“When there’s a life or death issue, it is better to go straight to the source and have the organ versus waiting weeks or months or years for a liver or a heart or whatever. And as we start to treat these diseases in animals, that procedure will then move onto humans, so people will be able to wait longer.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the staff member of the local newspaper Valladolid Ledo who attended the procedure, told CNN that the entire process took around four hours and that the process seemed to go as planned.
“Most surgeons aren’t used to the experience of pig kidneys. They’d usually rather use something that is safe in the form of cow or sheep or whatever,” said the worker.
“But as you can see from the results of this procedure and from the studies done in similar cases, a pig kidney makes the most sense. The cells, the muscle, can all be grown in the animal and it has a very high yield.”