Surgeons transplanted pig’s heart to human for the first time Jan. 7, 2022, in Baltimore, Maryland –
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 on Monday.
The operation was carried out on Friday and showed for the first time that an animal heart could continue to function inside a human without immediate rejection, the institution said in a statement.
David Bennett, 57, who received the porcine heart, was declared ineligible for a human transplant. It is now closely monitored by doctors to make sure the new organ is functioning properly.
“It was either death or this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s pretty hit and miss, 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 be able to get out of bed once I’m well,” said Bennett, who has spent the last few months bedridden and hooked up to a machine that kept him alive.
The United States Drugs Agency (FDA) gave the green light for the operation on New Year’s Eve.
– “Major surgical breakthrough” –
“This is a major surgical breakthrough and one that brings us one step closer to a solution to the organ shortage,” commented Bartley Griffith, who performed the transplant.
“We are proceeding with caution, but 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 to no longer produce a type of sugar normally present in all pig cells and which causes immediate rejection of the organ.
The genetic modification was made by the company Revivicor, which also provided a pig kidney that surgeons had 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 that the body rejects the organ.
Nearly 110,000 Americans are currently on the organ transplant waiting list and more than 6,000 people who need transplants die each year in the country.
Xenografts – from animal to human – are not new. Doctors have attempted cross-species transplants since at least the 17th century, with the earliest experiments focusing on primates.
In 1984, a baboon heart was transplanted into a baby, but the little one, nicknamed “Baby Fae”, only survived 20 days.
Pig heart valves are thus already widely used in humans, and their skin can be used for grafts on severe burns.
Pigs are ideal organ donors in particular due to their size, rapid growth and litters, which have lots of young.
In addition, the use of porcine organs is better accepted because pigs are already used for food, Robert Montgomery, director of the NYU Langone Institute of Transplantation, told AFP in October.