Patient dies weeks after kidney transplant from genetically modified pig

Richard “Rick” Slayman, who made history at age 62 as the first person to receive a kidney from a genetically modified pig, died about two months after the procedure.

Massachusetts General Hospital, where Mr. Slayman underwent surgery, said in a statement Saturday that its transplant team was “deeply saddened” by his death. The hospital said it had “no indication that it was the result of his recent transplant.”

Mr. Slayman, who was black, had end-stage renal disease, a condition that affects more than 800,000 people in the United States, according to the federal government, with disproportionately higher rates among blacks.

There are too few kidneys available for donation. Nearly 90,000 people are on the national waiting list for a kidney.

Mr. Slayman, a supervisor for the state Department of Transportation in Weymouth, Massachusetts, had received a human kidney in 2018. When it began to fail in 2023 and developed congestive heart failure, his doctors suggested he try one from a modified pig.

“I saw it not only as a way to help myself, but as a way to give hope to the thousands of people who need a transplant to survive,” he said in a hospital press release in March.

His four-hour surgery was a medical milestone. For decades, supporters of so-called xenotransplantation have proposed replacing diseased human organs with those of animals. The main problem with this approach is the human immune system, which rejects animal tissue as foreign, often leading to serious complications.

Recent advances in genetic engineering have allowed researchers to modify the genes of animal organs to make them more compatible with their recipients.

The pig kidney transplanted into Mr. Slayman was designed by eGenesis, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Scientists removed three genes and added seven more to improve compatibility. The company also inactivated retroviruses carried by pigs that could be harmful to humans.

“Mr. Slayman was a true pioneer,” eGenesis said in a declaration Saturday on social media “His courage helped chart a path forward for current and future patients with kidney failure.”

Mr. Slayman was released from hospital two weeks after surgery, with “one of the cleanest health bills I've had in a long time,” he said at the time.

In a statement released by the hospital, Mr Slayman's family said he was kind, witty and “fiercely dedicated to his family, friends and colleagues”. They said they took great comfort in knowing that his case had inspired so many people.

“Millions of people around the world have known Rick's story,” they said in the statement. “We felt – and still feel – comforted by the optimism he provided to patients desperately waiting for a transplant.”

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