Doctors at Maryland hospital have transplanted a pig heart into a patient in a last-ditch effort to save his life and a Maryland hospital. The patient was David Bennett, 57 years old.
While it is too early to tell if the operation will actually work, it marks a step in the decades-long quest to one day use animal organs for life-saving transplants.
Genetically modified heart
Last Friday’s surgery lasted seven hours at the Baltimore hospital. Bartley Griffith, who performed the surgery, noted that the patient’s condition (heart failure and irregular heartbeat) made you ineligible for a human heart transplant or heart pump.
Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center say the transplant reveals that a heart from a genetically modified animal can work in the human body without immediate rejection. Surgeons in Maryland used a heart from a pig that had undergone gene editing to remove a sugar in its cells that is responsible for such hyper-rapid organ rejection.
On Monday, Bennett was breathing on his own while still hooked up to a heart-lung machine to support his new heart. The next few weeks will be critical as Bennett recovers from surgery and doctors carefully monitor how his heart is doing.
There is a severe shortage of donated human organs for transplantation, leading scientists to try to figure out how to use animal organs instead. If this transplant works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients suffering.
It remains to be seen that rejection does not occur in this xenotransplantation, although at the moment everything is good news. Cross our fingers. We are witnessing a milestone in the history of medicine and, by extension, of science. A path, sometimes tortuous, but always epic from the first scientists who met in coffee shops to forge what would be the foundations of the scientific method and peer review, as you can see in the following video: