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The realities and ethics of pig organ transplants in humans

A sign for Massachusetts General Hospital.
A sign for Massachusetts General Hospital.

Genetically modified pig kidney transplants may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but they’re happening now – twice this year in living patients.

With CRISPR technology, scientists can edit pig genes to be more compatible with a human body, or at least that’s the hope. 

More than 100,000 people are on the waiting list to receive a kidney, but only 17,000 people will end up getting one. That’s according to the National Kidney Foundation.

But a future of endless kidneys bred from pigs is still far away. The experimental surgeries that allowed for a pig kidney transplant were covered under the FDA’s compassionate use care and clinical studies have yet to be conducted.

Even as roughly 13 Americans die each day waiting for a kidney transplant, some bioethicists wonder if genetically engineered pigs are the right way to go. This is also happening after a rehaul of the troubled organ transplant and donor system.

What is the state of kidney transplantation? And what might the future look like?

Copyright 2024 WAMU 88.5

Michelle Harven