A man has become the first ever person in the world to receive a genetically-modified pig heart in a transplant.
David Bennett agreed to receive the genetically-modified pig heart after he was told that without the transplant that the only alternative was death.
The 57-year-old, who was diagnosed with terminal heart disease, had been identified as ineligible for a human transplant.
The US Food and Drug Administration subsequently granted a special exemption to doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center to perform the ground-breaking seven-hour surgery on New Year’s Eve.
Bennett reflected how it was ‘a shot in the dark’ but that it was his ‘last choice’.
The first-of-its-kind surgery came off the back of years of research, and demonstrated how it’s possible for a genetically-modified animal heart to not be rejected by a human body and to function like a human heart if several genes are removed from it, BBC reports.
The transplant and its thus-far success signal just how life changing the use of genetically-modified pig hearts could be in saving multiple lives around the world.
Dr Bartley P. Griffith, MD, who performed the surgery, stated:
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.
Dr Griffith concluded by noting how the research team were ‘proceeding cautiously’, but were ‘also optimistic that this first-in-the-world surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future’.
An organ from a pig was first transplanted successfully in October 2021, however, the patient was classified as brain dead at the time and had no hope of recovering despite receiving the pig kidney.
Dr Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, MD, who established the Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program with Dr Griffith, explained how the latest surgery was the ‘culmination of years of highly complication research to hone this technique in animals with survival times that have reached beyond nine months’.
‘The FDA used our data and data on the experimental pig to authorise the transplant in an end-stage heart disease patient who had no other treatment options,’ he stated.
Dr Mohiuddin concluded by noting how the ‘successful procedure provided valuable information to help the medical community improve this potentially life-saving method in future patients’.
According to the US government’s Health Resources and Administration, 106,660 people are currently on the national waiting list for a transplant, and 17 people die each day while waiting.
While it is still uncertain as to what Bennett’s chances of survival are in the long run, three days after the operation doctors reported that he is doing well.
The 57-year-old is even noted as having been able to breathe without assistance yesterday, Monday, January 10.
His son explained to AFP that the family are ‘in the unknown at this point’, but that his father ‘realises the magnitude of what was done’ and ‘the importance of it’.
Bennett concluded, ‘I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.’
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University of Maryland School of Medicine
Health Resources and Services Administration