A US man with terminal heart disease was implanted with a genetically modified pig heart in a first-of-its-kind surgery, and three days later the patient was doing well, his doctors reported on Monday.
The surgery, performed by a team at the University of Maryland Medicine, is among the first to demonstrate the feasibility of a pig-to-human heart transplant, a field made possible by new gene-editing tools.
If proven successful, scientists hope pig organs could help alleviate shortages of donor organs.
“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,” Bartley Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig heart into the patient, said in a statement.
“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,” Griffith added.
For 57-year-old David Bennett of Maryland, the heart transplant was his last option.
“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 his surgery, according to a statement released by the university.
To move ahead with the experimental surgery, the university obtained an emergency authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on New Year’s Eve through its compassionate use program.
“The FDA used our data and data on the experimental pig to authorize the transplant in an end-stage heart disease patient who had no other treatment options,” said Muhammad Mohiuddin, who heads the University’s program on xenotransplantation — transplanting animal organs into humans.
About 110,000 Americans are waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 people die each year before getting one, according to organdonor.gov.
Bennett’s genetically modified pig heart was provided by Revivicor, a regenerative medicine company based in Blacksburg, Virginia. On the morning of the surgery, the transplant team removed the pig’s heart and placed it into a special device to preserve its function until the surgery.
Pigs have long been a tantalizing source of potential transplants because their organs are so similar to humans.
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