A pioneering medical initiative is underway in Japan, as a team of healthcare experts from Jikei University School of Medicine and the National Center for Child Health and Development has unveiled plans for a groundbreaking clinical study. This study involves the temporary transplantation of a pig’s kidney into an unborn child afflicted with severe kidney disease, potentially marking the first instance of a domestic animal-to-human transplant in Japan.
The team is poised to seek approval from a state-designated committee later this year, following an exhaustive ethical review at the medical facility where the transplant is slated to occur. In a proactive measure to address potential ethical concerns surrounding the procedure, the team intends to host an open lecture aimed at fostering public understanding and support before formally submitting their application.
The proposed procedure aims to offer a lifeline to unborn children diagnosed with potter sequence, a debilitating condition characterized by the inability to produce sufficient urine. This deficiency can lead to a cascade of complications, including lung damage, developmental disorders, and limb deformities. The innovative approach involves transplanting a 2-millimeter kidney harvested from a fetal pig just 30 days after fertilization into the body of the unborn child.
Executing this procedure entails delicately injecting the pig’s kidney under the skin of the baby’s back approximately four weeks prior to the anticipated delivery date. Once born, the infant will expel urine produced by the transplanted kidney through a tube inserted into their back.
Should the baby reach a weight suitable for dialysis treatment, the pig’s kidney will be surgically removed several weeks post-birth. While this initiative would represent Japan’s inaugural attempt at such a procedure, analogous pig-to-human transplants have previously been undertaken in the United States.
Of particular note is a pioneering effort by a team at New York University, which successfully transplanted a genetically modified pig’s kidney into a human recipient in 2021. Additionally, the University of Maryland achieved a significant milestone last year by performing a pig’s heart transplant on a patient deemed ineligible for a traditional heart transplant.
The ambitious undertaking by the Japanese medical team heralds a significant stride forward in the realm of medical science, offering hope to patients grappling with severe kidney conditions. Nonetheless, the initiative also elicits pertinent ethical considerations, underscoring the imperative of meticulous deliberation and robust public engagement in the evolution of such groundbreaking medical interventions.