Grandmother Dies After Heart Pump and Pig Kidney Transplant

A 54-year-old grandmother, Lisa Pisano, passed away on Sunday, months after undergoing pioneering surgeries at NYU Langone Transplant Institute.

Pisano received a combined mechanical heart pump and a gene-edited pig kidney transplant in an attempt to address her severe heart and kidney failure.

The Pioneering Surgeries

Pisano, who suffered from heart failure and end-stage kidney disease, was ineligible for human transplants.

On April 4, she received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), followed by a genetically modified pig kidney transplant on April 12. However, the pig kidney was removed 47 days later due to complications with blood flow.

“Lisa’s contributions to medicine, surgery, and xenotransplantation cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Robert Montgomery, director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute. “Her legacy as a pioneer will live on and she will forever be remembered for her courage and good nature.”

Challenges Before the Transplant

Before her surgeries, Pisano faced debilitating health issues, requiring regular dialysis for her kidney disease.

“I was pretty much done,” she told CBS News in April. “I couldn’t go up the stairs. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t play with my grandkids. So when this opportunity came to me I was taking it.”

Despite the removal of the pig kidney, Pisano reported feeling better post-surgery. “I feel great today compared to other days,” she shared in the same interview.

The Need for Transplant Alternatives

Currently, around 104,000 people in the U.S. are on the waiting list for a transplant, with more than 80% awaiting a kidney. However, only about 27,000 received transplants last year.

Pisano’s case was only the second instance of a gene-edited pig kidney being transplanted into a living person.

Dr. Montgomery highlighted the significance of Pisano’s bravery, stating, “Lisa helped bring us closer to realizing a future where someone does not have to die for another person to live.”

The Science Behind the Gene-Edited Pig Kidney

The pig kidney transplant involved genetic modifications to eliminate the gene responsible for alpha-gal, a sugar that triggers immediate rejection in humans.

By “knocking out” this gene, the likelihood of rejection decreases, making xenotransplantation a more viable option.

Dr. Montgomery explained, “By using pigs with a single genetic modification, we can better understand the role one key stable change in the genome can have in making xenotransplantation a viable alternative.”

A Sustainable Solution to Organ Shortages

The genetically modified pigs do not require complex cloning processes, presenting a sustainable and scalable solution to the organ shortage crisis.

“If we want to start saving more lives quickly, using fewer modifications and medications will be the answer,” Dr. Montgomery noted earlier this year.

Lisa Pisano’s participation in these groundbreaking procedures has provided valuable insights and hope for the future of organ transplants.

With information from CBS News

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