Patients with ESKD who would benefit from a kidney transplant face a critical and continuing shortage of kidneys from deceased human donors. As a result, such patients wait a median of 3.9 years to receive a donor kidney, by which time approximately 35% of transplant candidates have died while waiting or have been removed from the waiting list. Those of blood group B or O may experience a significantly longer waiting period. This problem could be resolved if kidneys from genetically engineered pigs offered an alternative with an acceptable clinical outcome. Attempts to accomplish this have followed two major paths: deletion of pig xenoantigens, as well as insertion of “protective” human transgenes to counter the human immune response. Pigs with up to nine genetic manipulations are now available. In nonhuman primates, administering novel agents that block the CD40/CD154 costimulation pathway, such as an anti-CD40 mAb, suppresses the adaptive immune response, leading to pig kidney graft survival of many months without features of rejection (experiments were terminated for infectious complications). In the absence of innate and adaptive immune responses, the transplanted pig kidneys have generally displayed excellent function. A clinical trial is anticipated within 2 years. We suggest that it would be ethical to offer a pig kidney transplant to selected patients who have a life expectancy shorter than the time it would take for them to obtain a kidney from a deceased human donor. In the future, the pigs will also be genetically engineered to control the adaptive immune response, thus enabling exogenous immunosuppressive therapy to be significantly reduced or eliminated.
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