Image by Mass General Hospital/Michelle Rose

Last month, surgeons at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston transplanted a kidney from a gene-hacked pig into a living 62-year-old man.

The unusual procedure appears to have been a resounding success, with the patient being discharged from the hospital on Wednesday.

The achievement could usher in a new era, potentially reducing our reliance on both hard-to-come-by human donor kidneys and the expensive dialysis machines that treat kidney disease and failure.

The patient, Richard Slayman, had been struggling with kidney disease for over a decade. His previously transplanted human kidney had also shown signs of failure last year.

But with his new kidney, which came from a genetically modified pig courtesy of biotech company eGenesis, Slayman is already doing much better. The organ is producing urine and removing waste from the blood, among other key functions, as the New York Times reports.

"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," Slayman said in an official statement. "Now it’s a reality."

It's a major milestone for xenotransplantation, the nascent field of harvesting donor organs, tissues, and cells, from one species for transplantation in another.

"Though much work remains to be done, I think the potential of this to benefit a large number of patients will be realized, and that was a question mark hovering over the field," David Klassen, the chief medical officer for the United Network for Organ Sharing, who was not involved in the surgery, told the NYT.

But Slayman isn't entirely out of the woods just yet. There's still a chance his body's immune system will come to reject the new kidney. We also still don't know if the same procedure will work for other patients.

On the eighth day following the procedure, Slayman's body did show signs of rejection, which were successfully reversed with steroids and other medications — the same treatment some patients receive after getting a donor organ from another human.

If the technique can be scaled up, it could allow us to reduce our reliance on extremely expensive kidney disease treatments and put a dent in the long waitlists for human donor kidneys. Currently, over 100,000 Americans are waiting to receive a human donor transplant and only 25,000 kidneys are translated each year. About 12 people die while waiting for a transplant each day in the US.

While Slayman has since been discharged, he will still be closely monitored and have to take tests three times a week. The immunosuppressive drugs he's taking also make him more vulnerable to infections, which means he won't be going back to work for at least six weeks.

Nonetheless, the team at the Massachusetts General Hospital is optimistic.

"When we first came in, he had a lot of apprehension and anxiety about what would happen," Leonardo Riella, medical director for kidney transplantation at Mass General, told the NYT. "But when we rounded on him at 7 am this morning, you could see a big smile on his face and he was making plans."

More on the surgery: Patient Walking Around Hospital After Transplant of Gene-Hacked Pig Kidney

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