Lowe brings swine health expertise to kidney transplant solution

Critical area for making transgenic pig kidneys a reality is to implement the highest quality animal production standards, using the latest reproductive methods.

October 25, 2023

2 Min Read
National Pork Board

In August, two U.S. surgical teams announced successful experimental kidney transplant from transgenic pigs into brain-dead human recipients. In both instances, the pig kidneys produced urine, carried out other functions of a kidney, and were not rejected by the body.

The announcements were hailed as a major step forward in addressing the dire prospects for the more than 800,000 Americans with end-stage kidney disease. The only treatment options available for these patients are to undergo dialysis several times a week or to receive a transplant of a healthy human kidney.

With demand for donated organs far greater than supply, identifying an alternative source for kidneys is a high priority. Using kidneys from pigs that have been genetically altered so that their cells do not trigger rejection when transplanted into people is rapidly moving toward a viable medical solution.

Kidney transplant from transgenic pigs

Since 2019, Jim Lowe, associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine, has been working with Makana Therapeutics, one of the companies leading the field of xenotransplantation (transplanting from one species to another). Lowe brings his extensive knowledge of pig husbandry to the Makana team as they tackle one of the challenges of production of viable organs for transplant: reliably producing healthy, gene-edited animals on a commercial scale.

“Makana has invested years of research into genetic engineering of pigs and into identifying the biochemical profile of recipients most likely to thrive with a xenotransplant,” said Lowe. “The third critical area for making transgenic pig kidneys a clinical reality is to implement the highest quality animal production standards in the industry, using the latest reproductive methods and technology. That’s where my decades of experience as a global swine consultant comes in.”

KidneyX award to Makana

In June, Makana was awarded an Artificial Kidney Phase II Prize to continue development of its genetically engineered donor pigs for use in kidney transplantation. The award comes from Kidney Innovation Accelerator, or KidneyX, a public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Society of Nephrology to accelerate innovation in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases.

Makana was founded by Joe Tector, MD, PhD, FACS, a practicing transplant surgeon who leads the xenotransplant program at Miami Transplant Institute.

“Our knockout pigs combined with our advancements in immunosuppression and patient matching have resulted in the longest and most consistent preclinical survival data in the xenotransplantation field,” said Tector recently in a statement from Makana. Makana is in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding next steps to conduct the first-ever human clinical trial in kidney transplant.

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