US man recovering after ‘breakthrough’ pig heart transplant
His doctors reported that a man suffering from terminal heart diseases is doing well three days after he was given a genetically engineered pig heart in a rare surgery.
The University of Maryland Medicine team performed the surgery. It is one of the first to demonstrate that it is possible to transplant a heart from a pig to a human. This was possible thanks in part, to new gene editing tools.
Scientists hope that pig organs will be able to alleviate the shortage of donor organs if they are successful.
“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 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.
David Bennett, a 57 year-old Maryland resident, decided that he had no other options. He received a 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 a day before his surgery, according to a statement released by the university.
To move ahead with the experimental surgery, the university obtained emergency authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration on New Year’s Eve through its compassionate use programme.
“The FDA used our data and data on the experimental pig to authorise the transplant in an end-stage heart disease patient who had no other treatment options,” said Dr Muhammad Mohiuddin, who heads the University’s programme on xenotransplantation – transplanting animal organs into humans.
According to organdonor.gov., there are approximately 110,000 Americans currently waiting for an Organ Transplant and over 6,000 patients who die each year before receiving one.
Bennett’s genetically modified pig heart was provided by Revivicor, a regenerative medicine company based in 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.
Because their organs are so similar, pigs have been a promising source for potential transplants for a long time.
Other organs taken from pigs are being studied for transplantation into humans, including the liver, kidneys and lungs.
Previous attempts at pig-to human transplants failed due to genetic differences that led to organ rejection or viruses that could pose an infection risk.
Scientists have found a way to fix this problem: They can delete potentially harmful genes.
In the heart implanted in Bennett, three genes previously linked with organ rejection were “knocked out” of the donor pig, and six human genes linked with immune acceptance were inserted into the pig genome.
Researchers also deleted an pig gene in order to stop the excessive growth of pig heart tissue.
The work was funded in part with a $15.7 million research grant to evaluate Revivicor’s genetically-modified pig hearts in baboon studies.
Bennett was also subject to genetic changes in the pig’s heart. Bennett also received an experimental anti-rejection medication.