Richard Slayman, first person who benefited from genetically modified pig kidney, passes away

Stephen Nartey May 13, 2024
Rick Slayman is pictured at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he became the first person to have a genetically modified pig kidney transplant. Photo: Michelle Rose/Massachusetts General Hospital

A Boston man who was a beneficiary of a genetically modified kidney transplant from a pig has passed away two months after the groundbreaking procedure. Richard Slayman, 62, was battling end-stage kidney disease when he received the pig’s organ which had undergone 69 genomic modifications.

Medical experts said the transplant marked a significant advancement in organ transplantation, as reported by Daily Mail. Despite doctors’ optimistic assessment of Slayman’s recovery and subsequent discharge from the hospital on April 6, the 62-year-old passed away on Saturday.

Both medical professionals and Slayman’s family have not linked his death to the groundbreaking transplant procedure. The Boston native underwent a four-hour surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, operating under the “compassionate use” clearance of the Expanded Access Protocol. This protocol, reserved for patients with life-threatening illnesses devoid of alternative treatments, facilitated the pioneering transplant from a genetically modified pig.

Slayman, who battled Type 2 diabetes and hypertension for years before succumbing to end-stage kidney disease, had previously undergone dialysis in 2011 and received a human kidney transplant in December 2018 after joining the donor waiting list.

Following the failure of his human kidney transplant in May 2023, Slayman was put back on dialysis. He had to endure biweekly de-clotting and surgical procedures to combat clotting issues during the second round of dialysis.

Due to persistent complications and deteriorating kidney function, his medical team proposed the groundbreaking pig kidney transplant. He encountered an organ rejection scare when he was about to be discharged from the hospital but it was swiftly managed by medical intervention as it was akin to such procedures.

At the time, Leonardo Riella, MGH’s medical director of kidney transplantation said: “I would rather get a rejection very early and get it treated and make adjustments rather than seeing it much later where it might go unnoticed for a couple weeks, at which point it might be too late.

“It’s a bit like a wildfire; you want to extinguish it quickly before it gets out of control.”

The initially rejected pig kidney was stabilized within three days with high doses of steroids. Following this turnaround, Slayman was discharged from the hospital. Expressing his relief and gratitude, he remarked, “This moment — leaving the hospital today with one of the cleanest bills of health I’ve had in a long time — is one I wished would come for many years.”

“Now, it’s a reality and one of the happiest moments of my life.”

In the months that followed his surgery, he underwent blood and urine tests three times weekly, along with biweekly doctor visits, to closely track his condition’s progress. At the time, Slayman said: “I have been a Mass General Transplant Center patient for 11 years and have the highest level of trust in the doctors, nurses, and clinical staff who have cared for me.

“When my transplanted kidney began failing in 2023, I again trusted my care team at MGH to meet my goals of not just improving my quality of life but extending it.

“I saw it not only as a way to help me, but a way to provide hope for the thousands of people who need a transplant to survive.’

Dr. Winfred Williams, associate chief of the nephrology division at MGH, explained the rationale behind the decision to pursue experimental treatment for Slayman, citing the unfeasible wait time of five to six years for a human kidney.

With over 100,000 patients on the U.S. kidney transplant waiting list, many kidney patients are likely to endure average delays of three years.

Joren C. Madsen, Director of the MGH Transplant Center, underscored the importance of Slayman’s role in advancing medical understanding and treatment modalities.

He said: “[The surgery] would not have been possible without his courage and willingness to embark on a journey into uncharted medical history.

“Mr. Slayman becomes a beacon of hope for countless individuals suffering from end-stage renal disease and opens a new frontier in organ transplantation.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 13, 2024

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