CHINA—A hospital in Anhui province in China has performed the world’s first liver transplant from a genetically modified pig to a human patient. 

This monumental procedure marks a significant milestone in xenotransplantation, offering hope to patients with severe liver conditions.

The surgery involved a 71-year-old male who had liver cancer.

Despite initial skepticism due to the liver’s intricate functions, the patient exhibited remarkable progress post-surgery, demonstrating the procedure’s feasibility and success.

Professor Sun Beicheng’s team from the First Affiliated Hospital of Anhui Medical University led this procedure in collaboration with Professor Wei Hongjiang’s team from Yunnan Agricultural University.

“The patient did not experience acute or hyperacute rejection within the seven days following the operation,” stated Professor Sun Beicheng, highlighting the surgery’s unprecedented achievement. 

This success emphasizes China’s prowess in medical innovation and positions the nation at the forefront of xenotransplantation technology worldwide.

The decision to proceed with the surgery was not taken lightly; various ethics committees, including academic, clinical, and organ transplant ethics committees, meticulously reviewed and approved the procedure. 

Guided by principles of compassion and non-maleficence, the multidisciplinary team ensured full consent from the patient and his family before proceeding.

During the surgery, the patient’s right liver tumor was excised, revealing the inadequacy of the remaining left lobe to sustain liver function. 

A genetically modified pig liver, cultivated by Professor Wei Hongjiang’s team, was transplanted into the patient’s right liver fossa. 

Notably, the surgery showcased innovative techniques, such as rotating the liver by 45 degrees, ensuring seamless integration and functionality.

Seven days post-surgery, the patient demonstrated remarkable recovery, with normal liver function and no signs of rejection. 

Xenotransplantation holds immense promise in alleviating the global organ shortage crisis. Due to their anatomical compatibility, pigs are emerging as potential organ donors, and ongoing research and successful clinical cases underscore the transformative impact of this field.

Elsewhere, recent breakthroughs in xenotransplantation, exemplified by Massachusetts General Hospital’s pioneering pig kidney transplant, have sparked global interest, offering hope amidst the organ shortage crisis. 

However, the recent passing of Richard Slayman, the first recipient of a genetically engineered pig kidney, has prompted questions regarding the safety and longevity of such procedures. 

Despite initial optimism regarding the transplant’s potential to extend Slayman’s life, he tragically passed away just two months post-surgery, highlighting the complexities and uncertainties inherent in organ transplantation. 

Massachusetts General Hospital clarified that Slayman’s demise was unrelated to the transplant, citing underlying health conditions as contributing factors. 

His journey from years of dialysis to the promise of xenotransplantation serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges and risks involved in advancing medical science.

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