Are Animal-to-Human Transplants the Next Step in Medicine?

In 1954, the first human organ transplant was successfully performed. Organ transplantation has come a long way since then. From what began as a humble kidney transplant; we are now able to transplant nearly every organ in the body. However, one problem remains. The amount of people in need of organ transplants far exceeds the amount of available organs to transplant. In the U.S. more than 90,000 people are in need of a new kidney and have to wait three to five years before one might become available.

Thankfully, medical professionals and scientists don’t rest easy. There is constant innovation in the medical field and organ transplantation is no exception. Recently, NYU Langone Health announced a successful animal-to-human transplant where a pig kidney was transplanted to a human and it was “the longest a pig kidney has functioned in a person.” The transplant team replaced the kidney of a brain-dead patient with a genetically modified pig’s kidney. After a month of monitoring, the team stated it functioned similarly to a human’s. Although this was only a test case, the hope is that one day pig organs may be able to help ease the shortage of human organs. 

We asked the Figure 1 community for their thoughts about this animal-to-human transplant. Here is what more than 550 HCPs had to say.

Are Pig Organ Transplants a Concern?

We asked our respondents if they were concerned or excited about the potential of animal-to-human organ transplants. The majority (57%) said they were excited, 20% said they were concerned, and the remaining 23% remained unsure. 

So, it seems most HCPs are leaning toward this advancement as an exciting benefit to the future of transplant medicine. One respondent said, “We have used pig heart valves for decades. I think this is a great advance and could be a possible short- to moderate-term solution for those people awaiting a human organ, to have a life without dialysis.” 

However, there is still a significant amount of wariness from healthcare professionals. Another respondent voiced their concern by stating, “I’m curious as to how this will affect the recipient in means of viruses and crossing species. I’m not familiar enough to know how that works. Will it even matter if the organ is modified? Or will this have an effect on the person’s biology?”

What Do HCPs Have to Say?

While many HCPs are excited about the promise this study brings, many are erring on the side of caution to see what comes next and how the medical community debates the ethics of animal-to-human transplants. Here is what a few of our respondents had to say.

“What are the ethics of keeping a brain dead patient alive for such a sustained period to explore this? I’m all for progress, and excited by the promise shown here, but curious about the ethical specifics.” 

– Certified Nursing Assistant

“I would like to hear the ethical arguments for and against this procedure and the processes involved.”

– Technician

“I think legal boundaries and ethical ones can be wildly different. I don’t debate it being legal. But I wonder if the donor, or their family, was aware of the actual intended usage. I’d feel far differently about being kept physically alive for months than I would being dissected at a medical school as a body donor, and would never assume the former was even a possibility when agreeing to be a donor. I’m not even debating we should be doing this, the potential is incredible, it’s just … yikes, ethically murky and an interesting conversation I think.”

– Certified Nursing Assistant

Published September 25, 2023

Join the Conversation

Sign up for Figure 1 and be part of a global community of healthcare professionals gaining medical knowledge, securely sharing real patient cases, and improving outcomes.