In a desperate attempt to save the lives of 57-year-old David Bennett, surgeons from the University of Maryland School of Medicine have managed a unique intervention – not at all for the first time, they successfully transplanted the heart of a genetically modified pig into a human recipient. The Maryland hospital announced on Monday that the patient was doing well three days after the operation.
At this point, of course, it is too early to draw any conclusions – there may still be complications with the organ’s acceptance. Nevertheless, the procedure is already an important step in many decades of efforts so that we can use animal organs for life-saving transplants in the future.
Heart from a pig
Above all, successful transplants have now shown that the heart of a genetically modified animal can function in the human body, without being immediately rejected by the immune system. However, the following days and weeks will be decisive, when the organism can still reject the transplanted organ.
The patient, who worked as a handyman, was made aware of the fact that this was an experimental procedure that may not work. However, given the fact that he was actually dying and because he was not entitled to a human heart transplant, he basically had no choice.
“It simply came to our notice then. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last chance. “ He said, according to a statement provided by the University of Maryland Medical School, Bennett the day before the operation.
The operation was successful, the patient is alive
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees similar experiments, has authorized the operation based on the so-called “compassionate use” emergency permit. This is available when the patient with a life-threatening condition has no other options.
On Monday, the patient was alive and breathing alone, but was still connected to a new heart and lung support device. The next few weeks will be crucial as Bennett recovers from surgery and doctors will keep a close eye on his heart.
Previous attempts at so-called xenotransplantation have failed mainly because the patient’s body quickly rejected the animal organ. One of the best-known cases is the 1984 operation, when Stephanie Fae Beauclair, a girl born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, she lived for 21 days with a baboon heart. However, her body eventually rejected the transplanted organ.
Genetically modified pig
This time, the difference is that the surgeons used a heart from a pig with modified genes. As part of the modifications, four genes that cause organ rejection were removed and six human genes were inserted to make the immune system better tolerated by foreign tissue. Pig organs for transplantation are being developed by several biotechnology companies – the heart that was used in Friday’s operation comes from Revivicor.
“If it succeeds, then it will be available an endless supply of these organs for patients, “ said Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, who works at the University of Maryland as the scientific director of the animal-to-human transplant program.
In September last year, researchers in New York conducted an experiment that suggests that genetically modified pigs may be a promising source of organ-to-human transplant organs. Doctors temporarily attached the pig’s kidney to the deceased patient’s body and watched it work for several hours.
There is a huge shortage of human organs for transplantation, leading scientists to look for a way to use animal organs. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the national transplant system, just over 3,800 heart transplants were performed in the United States last year, a record number. Nevertheless, 17 people waiting for a transplant die every day.