Groundbreaking Work

Randy Prather, Curators' Distinguished Professor in Animal Sciences, speaks about the latest pig kidney breakthrough.

After The New York Times reported two weeks ago that a pig kidney was functioning normally after surgeons successfully attached it to a human. We spoke with Randy Prather, Curators’ Distinguished Professor in Animal Sciences, who laid the foundational research for this latest achievement.

When pig cells, tissues or organs are transplanted into a primate, pre-existing antibodies recognize a on the cell surface and the cells, tissues or organs are immediately rejected (hyperacute rejection), Prather said. In 2001, his laboratory worked with Immerge BioTherapeutics and performed somatic cell nuclear transfer with cells in which they knocked out one allele of GGTA1 (the gene responsible for making the enzyme that puts the Gal epitope on the cell surface).

With this groundbreaking work, they were able to produce the world’s first pig with a specific gene disrupted. MU eventually licensed the intellectual property for the genetic modification to Revivicor. Revivicor independently made the knockout in their own genetics while Kevin Wells, now-associate professor in animal sciences in CAFNR, worked there, and used pigs with his modification to GGTA1 to harvest the kidney for the procedure reported in the  Times.

“I was both excited and disappointed when I first heard the news from the New York Times,” said Prather. “It was exciting to see the next step in the application of technology. In 2004 GGTA1 knockout pig kidneys were transplanted into baboons which did not undergo hyperacute rejection and made urine. I was disappointed that it took 17 years to try it in humans.

“This latest report is just the next step in making pig organs that are not rejected when transplanted to humans. While the hyperacute rejection has been solved, there are still several hurdles to overcome. But now that we are past hyperacute rejection those hurdles can be seen and systematically addressed.”