Pig Organ Transplant Experiments on Monkeys to Begin this Year; Clinical Application for Humans Eyed by Medical Institutions

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine

Several Japanese medical institutions are making preparations for the clinical application of pig organ transplants into humans, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Starting this year and continuing into 2025, these institutions will conduct experiments involving the transplant of pig organs, including the kidneys and heart, as well as pancreatic tissue into monkeys, with the aim of applying this process to humans within a few years.

Genetically modified pigs will be used to mitigate the risk of rejection that can occur when organs are transplanted into a human. PorMedTec Co., a startup company from Meiji University, produced three genetically modified piglets in February, using cells developed by a U.S. biotech firm. PorMedTec plans to breed more of these pigs and provide them to Japanese medical institutions for research into animal-to-human transplants, a process called xenotransplantation.

Among these institutes, a team of researchers from Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine and Kagoshima University plans to transplant a pig kidney into a monkey as soon as this summer and to conduct clinical research within a few years. The team is considering this as a potential form of treatment for patients whose immune system rejects a transplanted regular kidney. It is thought that using organs from these genetically engineered pigs may have a lower risk of rejection.

Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine Associate Prof. Masayoshi Okumi, an expert on urology, has high hopes for these transplants. “This will create a new option for patients who had no choice but to decline a kidney transplant,” Okumi said.

This summer, Fukuoka University Prof. Shohta Kodama, an expert on regenerative transplant medicine, and other researchers plan to conduct an experiment in which pig’s pancreatic islets, which are found in the pancreas and secrete hormones that lower blood sugar levels, will be transplanted into a monkey. Kodama’s team plans to begin clinical research on patients with type 1 diabetes in two years.

Researchers including Shunsuke Saito, a specially appointed associate professor at Osaka University, aim to conduct a pig heart transplant. They plan to transplant a pig heart into a monkey as soon as 2025. The average waiting time for a heart transplant in Japan is about five years. However, many of those patients die before a suitable heart become available.

“Xenotransplantation is an essential method for saving patients whose lives can’t be saved by using a ventricular assist device,” said Saito, an expert on cardiovascular surgery.