American surgeons have successfully transplanted a heart from a genetically modified pig into a patient, a world first, the University of Maryland School of Medicine announced on Monday (January 10). The operation was carried out on Friday and showed for the first time that an animal heart could continue to function inside a human without immediate rejection, the institution said in a statement.
David Bennett, 57, who received the porcine heart, was declared ineligible to receive a human transplant. It is now closely monitored by doctors to make sure the new organ is functioning properly. “It was either death or this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s quite risky, but it was my last option “the Maryland resident said a day before his operation, according to the medical school. “I can’t wait to get out of bed once I’m well.”, continued Mr Bennett, who has spent the last few months bedridden and hooked up to a machine that kept him alive.
Genetically modified pork
The United States Drugs Agency (FDA) gave the green light for the operation on New Year’s Eve. “It is a major surgical advance and which brings us even closer to a solution to the organ shortage”, commented Bartley Griffith, who performed the transplant. The pig the heart comes from has been genetically modified to no longer produce a type of sugar that is normally present in all pig cells and that causes immediate rejection of the organ.
This genetic modification was made by the company Revivicor, which also provided a pig kidney that surgeons had successfully connected to the blood vessels of a brain-dead patient in New York in October. Nearly 110,000 Americans are currently on the waiting list for organ transplants and more than 6,000 people who need transplants die each year in the country.
Xenografts – from animal to human – are not new. Doctors have attempted cross-species transplants since at least the 17the century, the first experiments focusing on primates. In 1984, a baboon’s heart was transplanted into a baby, but the little one, nicknamed “Baby Fae”, only survived 20 days.