Genetically Modified Pig Heart Successfully Transplanted In Man

In a first-of-its-kind surgery in the world, a genetically modified pig heart was successfully transplanted in a 57-year-old man with terminal heart disease.

The patient, David Bennett, is still doing well four days after the experimental surgery in Baltimore, doctors say.

It was the only currently available option for the Maryland resident, who is suffering from end-stage heart disease, after he was deemed ineligible for traditional human heart transplant.

“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,” Bennett said a day before the surgery. He had been hospitalized and bedridden for the past few months. “I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover,” he added.

It is not yet clear how long can he survive with the porcine heart.

The historic seven-hour procedure was conducted by University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) faculty at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), together known as the University of Maryland Medicine.

This organ transplant demonstrated for the first time that a genetically modified animal heart can function like a human heart without immediate rejection by the body. The patient is being carefully monitored over the coming days and weeks to determine whether the transplant provides lifesaving benefits.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for the surgery on New Year’s Eve through its expanded access (compassionate use) provision. It is used when an experimental medical product, in this case the genetically modified pig’s heart, is the only option available for a patient faced with a serious or life-threatening medical condition. The authorization to proceed was granted in the hope of saving the patient’s life.

“This was a breakthrough surgery and 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,” said Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, MD, who surgically transplanted the pig heart into the patient.

“This is the culmination of years of highly complicated research to hone this technique in animals with survival times that have reached beyond nine months”, said Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, MD, Professor of Surgery at UMSOM, and who is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on transplanting animal organs.

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 could potentially save thousands of lives but does carry a unique set of risks, including the possibility of triggering a dangerous immune response. These responses can trigger an immediate rejection of the organ with a potentially deadly outcome to the patient.

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