US surgeons have successfully implanted a heart from a genetically modified pig in a 57-year-old man, a medical first that could one day help solve the chronic shortage of organ donations.
The “historic” procedure took place Friday, the University of Maryland Medical School said in a statement Monday. While the patient’s prognosis is far from certain, it represents an important milestone for animal-to-human transplantation.
The patient, David Bennett, was ineligible for a human transplant — a decision often made when the recipient has very poor underlying health.
He is now recovering and being closely monitored to determine how the new organ is performing.
“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,” the Maryland resident said a day before surgery.
Bennett, who has been bedridden on a heart-lung bypass machine for the past few months, added, “I’m looking forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”
The Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency permit for the surgery on New Year’s Eve, as a last-ditch effort for a patient unfit for conventional transplantation.
“This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis,” said Bartley Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig heart.
“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.”
Muhammad Mohiuddin, co-founder of the university’s cardiac xenotransplantation program, added that the surgery was the culmination of years of research, involving pig-to-baboon transplants, with survival times of more than nine months.
“The successful procedure provided valuable information to help the medical community improve this potentially life-saving method in future patients,” he said.
– 10 unique gene edits –
Bennett’s donor pig belonged to a herd that had undergone genetic editing procedures.
Three genes that would have led to pig organ rejection by humans were “turned off”, as well as a gene that would have led to overgrowth of pig heart tissue.
Six human genes responsible for human acceptance were inserted into the genome, for a total of 10 unique gene edits.
The montage was performed by Virginia-based biotech company Revvicor, which also supplied the pig used for a groundbreaking kidney transplant in brain-dead patients in New York in October.
But while that surgery was purely a proof-of-concept experiment and the kidney was plugged outside the patient’s body, the new surgery aims to save someone’s life.
The donated organ was kept in an organ preservation machine before surgery, and the team also used an experimental new drug made by Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals along with conventional anti-rejection drugs to suppress the immune system.
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 official figures.
To meet demand, doctors have long been interested in so-called xenotransplantation, or cross-sex organ donation, with experiments dating back to the 17th century.
Early research focused on harvesting organs from primates — in 1984, for example, a baboon heart was transplanted into a newborn baby known as “Baby Fae,” but she only survived for 20 days.
Today, pig heart valves are widely used in humans, and pig skin is grafted onto human burn victims.
Pigs are the ideal donors because of their size, their rapid growth and large litters, and the fact that they are already raised as a food source.
(This story was not edited by DailyExpertNews staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)