US man receives pig heart in world first transplant procedure

Jan 16, 2022
In a world first a genetically modified pig heart has been transplanted into a US patient. Source: Getty Images.

A 57-year-old US man with terminal heart disease is recovering in hospital after receiving a genetically modified pig heart transplant in a first-of-its-kind surgery.

Performed by the University of Maryland Medicine, the transplant demonstrated for the first time that a genetically-modified animal heart can function like a human heart without immediate rejection by the body.

David Bennet, the man who received the transplant is being carefully monitored over the coming weeks to determine the life-saving benefits of the procedure. Bennett had been deemed ineligible for a conventional heart transplant with the experimental surgery being his last option.

“It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice,” he said.

“I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for the surgery through its expanded access (compassionate use) provision.

Dr. Bartley P. Griffith who performed the transplant said  the surgery “brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis.”

“There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients,” he said.

“We are proceeding cautiously, but we are also optimistic that this first-in-the-world surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future.”

About 110,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before getting one, according to the federal government’s

Xenotransplantation, transplanting animal organs into humans, was first attempted in the 1980s but was abandoned following the well-known case of Stephanie Fae Beauclair who was born with a fatal heart condition and received a baboon heart transplant. He died within a month of the procedure due to the immune system’s rejection of the foreign heart.

The organs from genetically modified pigs have been the focus of much of the research in xenotransplantation, due to the physiologic similarities between pigs and humans.

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