The first person to receive a genetically modified pig kidney transplant has died

By Emma Bowman
Rick Slayman is pictured at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he became the first person to have a genetically modified pig kidney transplant. Massachusetts General Hospital

Richard “Rick” Slayman, the first human to receive a genetically modified pig kidney transplant, has died almost two months after the procedure.

Slayman, who had end-stage kidney disease, underwent the transplant in March at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston at age 62.

The hospital said in a statement on Saturday that there was “no indication” that his death was the result of the transplant. The transplant surgeon had said he hoped the transplant would function for at least two years.

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“The Mass General transplant team is deeply saddened at the sudden passing of Mr. Rick Slayman,” read the hospital statement. “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.”

The surgery was a milestone for the field of xenotransplantation — the transplant of organs from one species to another — as a way to alleviate the organ shortage for people who need transplants. The effort to genetically modify animal organs is in hopes that the human body will not reject the foreign tissue.

In a statement from shared by the hospital, Slayman’s family thanked his doctors: “Their enormous efforts leading the xenotransplant gave our family seven more weeks with Rick, and our memories made during that time will remain in our minds and hearts.”

His family said he was kind, quick-witted, and “fiercely dedicated to his family, friends, and co-workers.”

“After his transplant, Rick said that one of the reasons he underwent this procedure was to provide hope for the thousands of people who need a transplant to survive,” it continued. “Rick accomplished that goal and his hope and optimism will endure forever.”

Last month, a 54-year-old New Jersey woman became the second person ever to have a genetically modified pig kidney transplant.

More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are on the waitlist for organs. Thousands die every year before they can get one.

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