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 Monday.
The operation was carried out on Friday and demonstrated for the first time that an animal heart can continue to function within a human without immediate rejection, the institution said in a statement.
David Bennett, 57, who received the pig heart, was declared ineligible for a human transplant. Now doctors are monitoring it closely to make sure the new organ is working properly.
“It was death or this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s pretty unpredictable, but it was my last option,” the Maryland resident said a day before his operation, according to the School of Medicine.
“I can’t wait to get out of bed once I’m okay,” said Bennett, who spent the last few months bedridden and hooked up to a machine that kept him alive.
The United States Drug Administration (FDA) gave the green light to the operation on New Year’s Eve.
– “Surgical breakthrough” –
“This is a major surgical advance and brings us one step closer to a solution to the organ shortage,” said Bartley Griffith, who performed the transplant.
“We are proceeding with caution, but we are also optimistic that this world first will provide an essential new option for patients in the future,” added the surgeon.
The pig from which the transplanted heart comes has been genetically modified so that it no longer produces a type of sugar that is normally present in all porcine cells and that causes immediate rejection of the organ.
The genetic modification was performed by the Revivicor company, which also provided a pig kidney that surgeons successfully connected to the blood vessels of a brain-dead patient in New York City in October.
The transplanted porcine heart had been stored in a machine before the operation and the team also used an experimental new drug from Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals, in addition to the usual anti-rejection drugs, to suppress the immune system and prevent the body from rejecting the organ.
Nearly 110,000 Americans are currently on the waiting list for organ transplants and more than 6,000 people in need of transplants die each year in the country.
Xenografts, from animal to human, are not new. Doctors have tried cross-species transplants since at least the 17th century, and the first experiments focused on primates.
In 1984, a baboon heart was transplanted into a baby, but the little one, nicknamed “Baby Fae,” only survived 20 days.
Therefore, pig heart valves are already widely used in humans and their skin can be used for grafts in severe burns.
Pigs are ideal organ donors in particular due to their size, rapid growth, and litters that have many young.
In addition, the use of pig organs is better accepted because pigs are already used for food, Robert Montgomery, director of the Langone Transplant Institute at New York University, told AFP in October.
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