WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- A 57-year-old Maryland man has become the first person to receive a pig heart as an organ transplant
- On Friday, U.S. surgeons in Baltimore transplanted pig heart into David Bennett.
- Bennett was ‘desperate,’ dying and not eligible for a human heart donation.
A 57-year-old man has become the first successful recipient of a genetically-modified pig heart.
Last week, surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center performed the first-of-its-kind procedure on Maryland resident David Bennett, who the university said was out of other options.
Bennett was diagnosed with terminal heart disease and had been hospitalized and bedridden for several weeks after being “deemed ineligible” for a traditional heart transplant.
“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 in a statement published by the University of Maryland Medical Center. “I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for the surgery under its compassionate use provision on New Year’s Eve.
According to researchers, the procedure required 10 unique gene edits to the pig heart in order to prevent the rejection of the organ once transplanted into the human body.
These edits included deleting four of the animal’s genes responsible for antibody-mediated rejection of pig organs by humans, as well as inserting six human genes into the genome for immune acceptance.
“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,” Dr. Bartley Griffith, who performed the surgery, said in a statement.
Griffith added that they are proceeding with caution and are also “optimistic that this first-in-the-world surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future.”
Three days after the surgery, the university medical center said Monday that Bennett is doing well, and he will continue to be monitored in the coming weeks to ensure the organ isn’t rejected.
He is still connected to a heart-lung bypass machine, but the new heart is functioning and taking on a majority of the work for his body, the surgeons told The New York Times.
Bennett could be taken off the bypass machine as early as Tuesday, if all goes well, his doctors said.
“It’s working and it looks normal,” Griffith told the Times. “We are thrilled, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring us. This has never been done before.”
According to statistics from the federal government, around 110,000 Americans are currently on the waitlist for an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before they are able to receive one.
Transplanting animal organs, also known as xenotransplantation, “could potentially save thousands of lives but does carry a unique set of risks,” the University of Maryland said.