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Pig Kidneys to the Rescue?

Jeffrey Miron

This article appeared on Substack on August 17, 2023.

This past week,

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham published a peer‐​reviewed study showing that modified pig kidneys performed complex life‐​sustaining functions in a brain‐​dead patient for a full week.

In an apparent response, surgeons at NYU Langone Health announced that a kidney from a genetically modified pig continued to function well after 32 days in a brain‐​dead patient maintained on a ventilator, the longest period for such an experiment.

The patient has shown no signs of rejecting the organ, said Dr. Robert Montgomery, director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute. But the research has not yet been published in a scientific journal.

This is interesting from a scientific perspective, and perhaps pig kidneys will end up being be more useful than human kidneys, if genetic engineering can reduce their probability of rejection.

Yet such transplants are presumably years away:

So far, transplants of genetically modified pig kidneys have been made only to brain‐​dead patients. Dr. Locke and her colleagues are in discussions with the Food and Drug Administration about launching a first clinical trial in live patients.


More than 800,000 American have kidney failure, and over 100,000 are on a waiting list for a transplant. Kidney dialysis can keep patients alive, but the gold standard treatment is an organ transplant.

Yet fewer than 25,000 kidney transplants are performed each year because of a scarcity of human donor organs. Thousands of people on the waiting list die each year.

How can policy address the current shortage? By legalizing organ sales.

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