Recipient of world's first genetically-modified pig kidney transplant dies 2 months post op

Screenshot of Rick Slayman after two weeks post surgery.

Screenshot of Rick Slayman after two weeks post surgery.

Published May 17, 2024


IN A SHOCKING development, the world’s first recipient of a genetically modified pig kidney transplant, Richard “Rick” Slayman, has died two months after the groundbreaking surgery.

The 62-year-old underwent the procedure at Massachusetts General Hospital in March, a moment that marked a significant leap forward in medical science. The surgery team had high hopes, initially believing the pig kidney would function for at least two years, “ABC News” said.

Massachusetts General Hospital released a statement expressing profound sadness over Slayman’s death and extended their heartfelt sympathies to his grieving family. Importantly, the hospital noted that there was no immediate evidence to suggest his death was directly caused by the pig kidney transplant.

“The Mass General transplant team is deeply saddened at the sudden passing of Mr Rick Slayman. We have no indication that it was the result of his recent transplant,” Massachusetts General Hospital said in a statement.

Slayman, from Weymouth, Massachusetts, was a pioneering figure in medical history, becoming the first living individual to receive such a transplant.

Before his operation, pig kidneys had only been transplanted into brain-dead patients. Additionally, there have been instances where men received pig heart transplants but unfortunately died within a few months.

The need for Slayman's pig kidney transplant arose after he faced complications from a previous kidney transplant performed at the same hospital in 2018.

When he began to experience dialysis difficulties that required frequent medical interventions, his doctors recommended the innovative pig kidney transplant.

It was revealed that at the time of the operation Slayman, who received a groundbreaking pig kidney transplant, had been battling Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure for several years.

Slayman depended on dialysis treatment until he underwent a kidney transplant in December 2018, receiving an organ from a deceased human donor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Mr Slayman will forever be seen as a beacon of hope to countless transplant patients worldwide and we are deeply grateful for his trust and willingness to advance the field of xenotransplantation.

“We offer our heartfelt condolences to Mr Slayman’s family and loved ones as they remember an extraordinary person whose generosity and kindness touched all who knew him,” the hospital’s statement said.

The kidney for Slayman’s revolutionary transplant came from a pig, specifically modified by eGenesis, a Cambridge-based pharmaceutical company.

The pig was genetically edited using cutting-edge CRISPR-Cas9 technology to make the organ more compatible with human bodies. Dangerous pig genes were eliminated, and certain human genes were introduced, the hospital said.

Slayman’s family, grieving yet grateful, shared their feelings in a statement. “It’s tough to lose Rick, who we love so much, but knowing he has inspired so many gives us comfort. His story reached millions and gave hope to people waiting for a transplant.”

The family also expressed deep appreciation for the team at Massachusetts General Hospital and Mass General Brigham. Special thanks went to Dr Williams, Dr Kawai, and Dr Riella for their tireless work to extend Slayman’s life.

“The extra seven weeks we had with Rick, thanks to this incredible xenotransplant, gave us precious memories we will always hold dear,” the family said.

Xenotransplantation, which means using animal parts to heal humans, hasn’t always worked. The human body often rejects the animal tissue.

However, this approach is becoming more important as the demand for organ transplants far exceeds the supply. In the US, 17 people die each day waiting for a transplant, as highlighted by the National Kidney Foundation.

Xenotransplantation is still considered an experimental procedure, xenotransplantation is only used in rare and critical cases. The FDA hasn’t started clinical trials yet. These future trials will be vital to determine if this innovative method can become a regular treatment option.