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U.S. surgeons successfully test pig kidney transplant in human patient

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For the first time, a pig  kidney has been transplanted into a human without triggering immediate rejection by the recipient’s immune system, a potentially major advance that could eventually help alleviate a dire shortage of human organs for transplant.

The procedure done at  NYU Langone Health in New York City involved use of a pig whose genes had been altered so that its tissues no longer contained a molecule known to trigger almost immediate rejection.

The recipient was a brain-dead patient with signs of kidney dysfunction whose family consented to the experiment before she was due to be taken off of life support, researchers told Reuters.

For three days, the new kidney was attached to her blood vessels and maintained outside her body, giving researchers access to it.

Test results of the transplanted kidney’s function “looked pretty normal,” said transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led the study.

The kidney made “the amount of urine that you would expect” from a transplanted human kidney, he said, and there was no evidence of the vigorous, early rejection seen when unmodified pig kidneys are transplanted into non-human primates.

The recipient’s abnormal creatinine level – an indicator of poor kidney function – returned to normal after the transplant, Montgomery said.

In the United States, nearly 107,000 people are presently waiting for organ transplants, including more than 90,000 awaiting a kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Wait times for a kidney average three-to-five years.

Researchers have been working for decades on the possibility of using animal organs for transplants, but have been stymied over how to prevent immediate rejection by the human body.

Montgomery’s team theorized that knocking out the pig gene for a carbohydrate that triggers rejection – a sugar molecule, or glycan, called alpha-gal – would prevent the problem.

The genetically altered pig, dubbed GalSafe, was developed by United Therapeutics Corp’s Revivicor unit. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2020, for use as food for people with a meat allergy and as a potential source of human therapeutics.

Medical products developed from the pigs would still require specific FDA approval before being used in humans, the agency said.

Other researchers are considering whether GalSafe pigs can be sources of everything from heart valves to skin grafts for human patients.

The NYU kidney transplant experiment should pave the way for trials in patients with end-stage kidney failure, possibly in the next year or two, said Montgomery, himself a heart transplant recipient. Those trials might test the approach as a short-term solution for critically ill patients until a human kidney becomes available, or as a permanent graft.

The current experiment involved a single transplant, and the kidney was left in place for only three days, so any future trials are likely to uncover new barriers that will need to be overcome, Montgomery said. Participants would probably be patients with low odds of receiving a human kidney and a poor prognosis on dialysis.

“For a lot of those people, the mortality rate is as high as it is for some cancers, and we don’t think twice about using new drugs and doing new trials (in cancer patients) when it might give them a couple of months more of life,” Montgomery said.

The researchers worked with medical ethicists, legal and religious experts to vet the concept before asking a family for temporary access to a brain-dead patient, Montgomery said.

 

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Bill Berkrot)

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Interior Health begins rolling out COVID-19 vaccines for children aged five to 11 – radionl.com

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Kamloops children between the age of five and 11 will now be able to get their COVID-19 vaccine starting this week, as the province begins rolling out the vaccine to people under the age of 12.

Parents and guardians are being encouraged to register their children for the vaccine – either online or by phone at 1‑833‑838‑2323 – if they haven’t done so already. Children can be registered on or after their fifth birthday.

“We’re launching the next phase of our immunization campaign by now offering the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine to children,” Interior Health interim chief medical health officer, Dr. Sue Pollock, said. “This vaccine is safe and effective at preventing COVID-19 in children, which means less disruption to school and the activities children and their families enjoy.”

The lead of B.C.’s vaccine rollout, Dr. Penny Ballem, says about 365,000 children in B.C. are now eligible for the vaccine.

“This is a specially-formulated vaccine for children. The real advantage that we have, particularly in view of the last weather event, is that it’s stable at 4 C for a long period of time, 10 weeks which is a very different situation from the other vaccines we’ve been dealing with,” she said.

“Eleven year-olds will receive the pediatric vaccination. After their 12th birthday, they will be eligible for the adult dose. And if a child is 11, receives the pediatric vaccination for their first dose, and then they turn 12 within the eight-week timeframe, they will get the adult dose for their second dose.”

Similar to how it was with adults, people who have registered for the vaccine will be told by text or email when it is time to book an appointment.

“Immunizing children brings additional protection to everyone in your family,” added pediatrician Dr. Shannon Wires, in a statement. “The pediatric COVID-19 vaccine has gone through a rigorous review and approval process. It provides excellent protection and I recommend parents get their children vaccinated as soon as possible.”

For more information on registering and booking appointments with your children, go here.

For a list of all Interior Health COVID-19 immunization clinics and other resources, go here.

– With files from Colton Davies

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Celltrion signs COVID-19 antibody therapy supply deals with Europe

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South Korean biotech company Celltrion’s distribution arm has signed supply deals for its monoclonal antibody to treat COVID-19 with nine European countries, Celltrion Healthcare said on Tuesday.

The European Commission earlier this month approved the company’s antibody therapy Regkirona, granting marketing authorisation for adults with COVID-19 who are at increased risk of progressing to a severe condition.

The first batch of 50,000 doses will be shipped to Europe this year and the company is in talks with 47 other nations including in Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East, Celltrion said in a statement.

The antibody treatment was initially approved in South Korea and has been administered to around 25,000 local COVID-19 patients as of last week.

Laboratory-made monoclonal antibodies mimic natural antibodies in fighting off infections. Unlike vaccines, they do not rely on the body to create an immune response, and can therefore help individuals with weak or compromised immune systems.

 

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; editing by Richard Pullin)

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What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

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Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Hong Kong expands travel curbs, Australia reports 5 cases

Hong Kong expanded a ban on entry for non-residents from several countries as global health authorities raced to curb a potential outbreak of the Omicron virus, while Australia’s cabinet will review containment steps on Tuesday after five tested positive.

Omicron – first reported in southern Africa and which the World Health Organization (WHO) said carries a “very high” risk of infection surges – has triggered global alarm, with border closures casting a shadow over a nascent economic recovery from a two-year pandemic. In Australia, the five travellers with Omicron are all vaccinated and in quarantine, health officials said, adding they are asymptomatic or display very mild symptoms.

Vaccine makers start work on Omicron-tailored shots

BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are working on vaccines that specifically target Omicron in case their existing shots are not effective against the new coronavirus variant, the companies said on Monday.

A top South African infectious disease expert said Omicron appears to be more transmissible than previous variants, including to people with immunity from vaccination or prior infection.

China’s Xi pledges another 1 bln vaccine doses for Africa

China will deliver another 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa and encourage Chinese companies to invest no less than $10 billion in the continent over the next three years, President Xi Jinping said on Monday.

China’s imports from Africa, one of its key sources of crude oil and minerals, will reach $300 billion in the next three years, Xi said, adding that the two sides would cooperate in areas such as health, digital innovation, trade promotion and green development.

Coronavirus reinfections rarely severe

Reinfections with the virus that causes COVID-19 are rarely severe, new findings suggest. Researchers in Qatar compared 1,304 individuals with a second SARS-CoV-2 infection against 6,520 people infected with the virus for the first time. Reinfected patients were 90% less likely to be hospitalised compared to patients infected for the first time, and no one in the study with a second infection required intensive care or died from COVID-19, said Dr. Laith Jamal Abu-Raddad of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar in Doha.

“Nearly all reinfections were mild, perhaps because of immune memory that prevented deterioration of the infection to more severe outcomes,” he said. It is not clear how long immune protection against severe reinfection would last, the researchers noted. If it does last for a long time, they speculate, it might mean that as the coronavirus becomes endemic, infections could become “more benign.”

Experimental smartwatch COVID-19 detection improving

Smartwatch alerting systems for early detection of COVID-19 infection are coming closer to reality, researchers reported on Monday in Nature Medicine. They tested their new system, developed with open-source software, in 2,155 wearers of Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin watches or other devices. Ultimately, 84 of the volunteers were diagnosed with coronavirus infections – including 14 of 18 people without symptoms.

Overall, the researchers’ algorithms generated alerts in 67 (80%) of the infected individuals, on average three days before symptoms began. “This is the first time, to our knowledge, that asymptomatic detection has been shown for COVID-19,” they said. Presently, the system mainly depends on measurements of wearers’ resting heart rate, said study leader Michael Snyder of Stanford University School of Medicine in California. When watches can report other health data such as heart rate variability, respiration rate, skin temperature, and oxygen levels, it will become easier to distinguish the COVID-19 cases from other non-COVID-19 events, researchers said.

 

(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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