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Innovators to the Rescue

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Director at Public Health and American Well-Being Initiative
Joel M. Zinberg, M.D., J.D. is the Director of the Public Health and American Well-Being Initiative at Paragon Health Institute, and a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. A native New Yorker, he recently completed two years as General Counsel and Senior Economist at the Council of Economic Advisers in the Executive Office of the President.

Innovators do far more than bureaucrats to improve health outcomes. 

Thirty years ago, I spoke at a conference on xenotransplantation — the transplantation of organs, cells, or tissues between species — at Columbia University’s Arden House. Participants were excited by the prospect of using animal organs to relieve the shortage of organs that limited the life-saving potential of transplantation. Unfortunately, it was clear that the scientific barriers limiting xenotransplantation remained high. Now, thanks to decades of research and scientific innovation, a groundbreaking experiment has demonstrated that xenotransplantation may be feasible. This innovative new source of organs may succeed in saving thousands of lives where years of government efforts to increase supply have failed.

Surgeons at NYU attached a kidney from a pig that had been genetically engineered to avoid immunologic rejection to a human being. Scientists at Revivacor, a company that has been researching xenotransplantation for two decades, inactivated a gene that normally produces a sugar (alpha-gal) found on the cell surface in many mammals such as pigs but not in people. Alpha-gal provokes immediate attack and “hyperacute” rejection from the human immune system. Revivicor also added a human gene to the pigs to produce a protein called CD46 to temper a human recipient’s immune response. The genetically modified pigs, called GalSafe, were approved by the FDA this past December as a source for medicines and food.

The gene-edited kidney functioned immediately and continued to filter waste and produce urine for 54 hours without triggering an acute rejection. If the procedure can be perfected to avoid longer-term forms of immune rejection, millions of Americans suffering from kidney failure and other diseases will benefit.

To continue reading, view the original article at National Review.

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