Scientists Have Discovered a Way to Make a Pig Liver Filter Human Blood


Surgeons linked an externally attached pig liver to a brain-dead human body and watched it filter blood. This is a step toward using this method on people whose livers have failed.

Thursday, the University of Pennsylvania announced the new project, which is a different take on organ transfers from animals to humans. As a “bridge” to help failing livers by cleaning the blood outside the body of the donor, the pig liver was used in this case, not inside. This is similar to how dialysis helps kidneys that are failing.

Xenotransplants, which are transfers from animals to humans, have not worked for decades because people’s immune systems have rejected the alien tissue. Now, scientists are trying again with pigs whose organs have been changed genetically to look more like those in humans.

In the past few years, kidneys from genetically modified pigs have been briefly put into brain-dead donors to see how well they work. Two men also got hearts from pigs, but they both died within months.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States is thinking about whether to let a few Americans who need a new organ take part in thorough tests of pig hearts or kidneys.

There are also people who want to use pig livers. The liver is more complicated than the kidneys and heart. It cleans the blood, gets rid of waste, and makes chemicals that the body needs to do other things. There are about 10,000 people waiting for a liver transplant in the United States right now.

In the Penn study, scientists connected a pig’s liver that had been genetically edited by eGenesis to an OrganOx device that helps keep human livers safe before they are transplanted.

The body was donated by the person’s family because their parts weren’t good enough to be donated. Machines kept the blood moving through the body.

Blood was put through the pig liver device for 72 hours as part of the experiment that was done last month. The Penn team said in a statement that the donor’s body stayed steady and there were no signs of damage to the pig liver.

A lot of work has gone into making machines that work like liver dialysis machines. Years ago, experiments were done using pig livers, before more advanced genetic techniques were available, according to Dr. Parsia Vagefi of UT Southwestern Medical Center. She wasn’t involved in the new experiment but is keeping a close eye on xenotransplantation research.

Vagefi said, “I applaud them for pushing this forward.” He called this method that uses both pigs and devices to be an interesting step toward better care for people with liver failure.

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