US surgeons transplant pig heart into human patient

11 January 2022, 14:04

Pig Heart Transplant
Pig Heart Transplant. Picture: PA

The surgery last Friday took seven hours at the Baltimore hospital.

In a medical first, US doctors have transplanted a pig heart into a patient in a last-ditch effort to save his life.

And a Maryland hospital said that he is doing well three days after the highly experimental surgery.

While it is too soon to know if the operation really will work, it marks a step in the decades-long quest to one day use animal organs for life-saving transplants.

Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Centre say the transplant showed that a heart from a genetically modified animal can function in the human body without immediate rejection.

Dr Bartley Griffith takes a selfie photo with patient David Bennett (Dr Bartley Griffith/University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP)

The patient, David Bennett, 57, knew there was no guarantee the experiment would work but he was dying, ineligible for a human heart transplant and had no other option, his son told The Associated Press.

“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,” Mr Bennett said a day before the surgery, according to a statement provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

There is a huge shortage of human organs donated for transplant, driving scientists to try to figure out how to use animal organs instead.

Last year, there were just over 3,800 heart transplants in the US, a record number, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the nation’s transplant system.

“If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering,” said Dr Muhammad Mohiuddin, scientific director of the university’s animal-to-human transplant programme.

But prior attempts at such transplants – or xenotransplantation – have failed, largely because patients’ bodies rapidly rejected the animal organ.

Notably, in 1984, Baby Fae, a dying infant, lived 21 days with a baboon heart.

The difference this time: The Maryland surgeons used a heart from a pig that had undergone gene-editing to remove a sugar in its cells that is responsible for that hyper-fast organ rejection.

“I think you can characterise it as a watershed event,” Dr David Klassen, UNOS’ chief medical officer, said of the Maryland transplant.

Still, Dr Klassen cautioned that it is only a first tentative step into exploring whether this time around, xenotransplantation might finally work.

The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees xenotransplantation experiments, allowed the surgery under what is called a “compassionate use” emergency authorisation, available when a patient with a life-threatening condition has no other options.

Just last September, researchers in New York performed an experiment suggesting these kinds of pigs might offer promise for animal-to-human transplants. Doctors temporarily attached a pig’s kidney to a deceased human body and watched it begin to work.

The Maryland transplant takes their experiment to the next level, said Dr Robert Montgomery, who led that experiment at NYU Langone Health.

“This is a truly remarkable breakthrough,” he said in a statement. “As a heart transplant recipient, myself with a genetic heart disorder, I am thrilled by this news and the hope it gives to my family and other patients who will eventually be saved by this breakthrough.”

The surgery last Friday took seven hours at the Baltimore hospital.

By Press Association

Latest World News

See more Latest World News

Firefighters tackling a blaze near Saint-Magne, south of Bordeaux, southwestern France

Firefighters battle major wildfire in France

Mohammad Arada looks at the rubble of his family house after it was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip

Death toll from weekend Israel-Gaza fighting rises to 47

Krisztina plays with her children on their balcony in Budapest, Hungary

In Pictures: How people in Budapest are keeping cool amidst heatwave

Vanessa Bryant, Kobe Bryant’s widow, leaves a federal courthouse in Los Angeles on Wednesday August 10 2022

Photographs of basketball star Kobe Bryant’s body were ‘shared for a laugh’

Courtney Clenney has been arrested on suspicion of murder

Social media model Courtney Clenney arrested in Hawaii on suspicion of murder

Virus Outbreak North Korea

Kim Jong Un ‘suffered fever’ during North Korea’s Covid wave, says his sister

Russia Ukraine War

Satellite images show Crimea airbase damaged after apparent Ukrainian attack

The Spanish government has limited air conditioning and heating

Spain cracks down on air conditioning and heating in bid to save energy

Former US national security adviser John Bolton

Iranian operative charged in plot to murder Trump security adviser John Bolton

A resident sits on the sea wall as smoke rises in the background from a deadly fire at a large oil storage facility in Matanzas, Cuba

Firefighters subdue deadly blaze at key oil facility in Cuba

Rising smoke can be seen from the beach at Saky after explosions were heard from the direction of a Russian military airbase near Novofedorivka, Crimea

Ukraine says nine Russian warplanes were destroyed in Crimea blasts

The river Rhine is pictured with low water in Cologne, Germany

Fears mount that water levels in Rhine river could fall below critical mark

Former US president Donald Trump gestures as he departs Trump Tower on Wednesday August 10 2022 in New York

Donald Trump says he took the fifth amendment in New York investigation

Former US president Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower, late on Tuesday August 9 2022, in New York

Donald Trump arrives to give evidence in New York investigation

Taiwan’s military conducts artillery live-fire drills at Fangshan township in Pingtung, southern Taiwan, Tuesday, August 9, 2022

China appears to wind down threatening war games near Taiwan

People line up to enter an H&M shop and buy items on sale in the Aviapark shopping centre in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday August 9 2022

Russians buy last goods from H&M and Ikea as stores wind down