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Medical Breakthrough: Doctors Successfully Transplant Pig Kidney To Human Recipient

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- In an amazing medical breakthrough, doctors at NYU have succeeded in using a pig's kidney for a human recipient. Experts believe this could mean the thousands of people on kidney transplant waiting lists could have a new option someday.

"The sad truth is that nearly half of the people who are waiting for a transplant are going to get too sick or die before an organ is available," said Dr. Robert Montgomery of NYU Langone Health.

That's the driving force behind Dr. Montgomery's quest to enlarge the pool of organs suitable for transplant - the need will always exceed the demand.

Less than one month ago, surgeons at NYU transplanted a kidney from a pig onto the body of a brain-dead recipient whose family consented to the experiment.

Within minutes, the kidney worked as a human one would for 54 hours. It produced urine and showed no signs of being rejected.

In order to prevent rejection, the kidney came from a herd of pigs that had been genetically modified to eliminate a gene that makes a tissue marker on all animal cells that triggers massive and immediate hyper-rejection in humans.

But why pigs?

"They're plentiful. They're used as a food supply. They're used for pharmaceuticals and... valve replacements," said Dr. Montgomery.

Pig organs are also a close match in size to human organs.

Bioethicists and religious leaders were consulted on the transplant and they felt the trial was ethical.

An added wrinkle to this transplant is that Dr. Montgomery just celebrated the third anniversary of his own heart transplant. He has a genetic disorder that has devastated his family.

"Taken the life of my father at a young age and my brother at 35, and I have another brother who's had a heart transplant... It's a passion for me for many reasons," he said.

Dr. Montgomery said the next steps are to repeat the procedure once or twice, and then move quickly to full human transplant - which could happen in the next year or two, he said.

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