Porcine Transplantation program

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REVOLUTIONIZING ORGAN TRANSPLANTATION 

Tackling kidney disease, heart failure, and diabetes using cells and organs from pigs.

A breakthrough on the horizon: Four years to success

For decades, the medical community has dreamed of transplanting porcine tissue (derived from pigs) to humans to replace failing kidneys, hearts, and pancreatic islet cells. When we can use readily available animal replacement cells and tissue to treat human diseases and conditions—a process known as xenotransplantation—we can save lives and make a transformative impact on human health. 

We believe that we are poised to do just that. At scale, successful transplants would be more than technological and medical breakthroughs. They would save thousands of lives each year, while improving the life expectancy and quality of life for many more.

Safe and successful transplant processes would herald a new era of medicine in which readily available animal tissue could be used to treat many different diseases and conditions.

The University of Minnesota has stepped up to the challenge. Our institution has a groundbreaking pedigree and deep knowledge in transplantation history. We have strategically assembled the most talented transplant team in the world to achieve these goals, and we have developed a clear roadmap.

The stakes are life and death

The demand for organs for human transplantation is enormous, but the supply is extremely limited. Currently, more than 114,000 people in the U.S. are on the waiting list for an organ transplant.

Each year, more than 7,000 die before they are able to receive a transplant. Our work could dramatically reduce that waiting list.

These patients wait in agonizing limbo, with expensive treatments that cannot solve the problem. For example, annual Medicare spending for kidney dialysis alone tops $28 billion.

Better options are needed. Transplants using cells and organs from pigs represents a historic and meaningful step forward that will save lives—and the University of Minnesota is ready to make it happen.

Our history and team prepare us for this challenge

For more than half a century, the University of Minnesota Medical School has been a pioneer in transplant medicine. Our surgeons and researchers have performed numerous worldwide transplant “firsts,” including the first clinical pancreas transplant and the first transplant of insulin-producing islet cells. We understand what it takes to be successful.

Now the University of Minnesota team will add to that list of history-making achievements by becoming the first to use pig tissue for successful heart, liver, and islet transplants in human patients. We have strategically built a team that has the ambition and qualifications to turn this big idea into reality.

This entire team of experts—leaders in their fields and laser- focused on this goal—will work together synergistically to achieve the next major milestone in transplant advances: the first successful kidney, heart, and islet transplants in human patients using cells and organs from pigs.

Bernhard J. Hering, M.D.

Bernhard J. Hering, M.D., Professor of Surgery, McKnight Presidential Chair in Transplantation Science, and Director of the Schulze Diabetes Institute, is a world-renowned expert in islet transplantation and a pioneer in islet xenotransplantation for diabetes.

Christopher McGregor, M.D.

Christopher McGregor, M.D., Professor of Surgery, has pioneered cardiac xenotransplantation and discovered a new antigen in porcine tissues that is linked to transplantation success. He led cardiac surgery and transplant programs at Mayo Clinic and University College London before joining the University of Minnesota in 2020.

Melanie Graham, M.P.H., P.h.D.

Melanie Graham, M.P.H., P.h.D. recognized as a world leader in preclinical research, holds the Robert and Katherine Goodale Chair in Minimally Invasive Surgery and is the Director of the Preclinical Research Center at the University of Minnesota.  Dr. Graham works closely with Dr. Andrew Adams utilizing preclinical models for research conducted in the preclinical research center. 

Richard Bianco, B.S.

Richard Bianco, B.S., Professor of Surgery and Program Director for Experimental Surgery, is an internationally recognized leader in complex surgical studies who brings decades of preclinical experience to this project.

Andrew B. Adams, M.D., Ph.D.

Andrew B. Adams, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Surgery and Chief of the Division of Transplantation, is a world leader in transplantation immunology. In 2020 he joined the U of M from Emory University, where he had achieved the world’s best results in kidney xenotransplantation in animals. Dr. Adams works closely with Dr. Melanie Graham utilizing preclinical models for research conducted in the preclinical research center at the University of Minnesota. 

Additional expertise from faculty members

Guerard Byrne, Ph.D., Christopher Burlak, Ph.D., Sabarinathan Ramachandran, Ph.D., and Amar Singh, Ph.D., will further strengthen the program.

The roadmap for success is clear

We believe we can launch successful initial clinical trials of kidney, heart, and islet cell transplantation from pigs to human patients by 2025.

This accelerated timeline is possible, in part, because there are no “black box” discoveries to impede our path. Decades of research into porcine-to-human transplants have illuminated and eliminated the most vexing problems within the field. The experts we have assembled are ready to turn this longtime ambition into reality.

With funding to move forward, we will achieve these groundbreaking goals in the very near future.

Projected timeline

  • 2021
  • 2022
  • 2023
  • 2024
  • 2025
  • 2021

    Maximize cell and tissue supply, expand team, and finalize strategy for preclinical studies.

  • 2022

    Initiate preclinical studies and establish regulatory framework for patient studies.

  • 2023

    Continue preclinical studies and generate medical-grade donor animals.

  • 2024

    Complete preclinical studies and submit documentation to FDA to start patient studies.

  • 2025

    Complete the first pig-to-human kidney, heart, and islet cell transplants.

You can help us take the next steps

To keep our most promising work on track, we depend on you. Donors support the boldest work that we do. Your generosity opens the door to “firsts” that will help thousands of patients down the road. We invite you to play an essential role in an achievement that will make medical history.

We seek to raise $2 million in philanthropic gifts that will propel our efforts. Your support will allow us to complete pilot studies and leverage the results into larger grants from other sources, such as the National Institutes of Health, that will continue to fuel these efforts.