In a medical first, doctors in Maryland have transplanted a modified pig heart into a human patient in a last-ditch effort to save his life.
Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center said Monday that the patient was fine three days after the highly experimental surgery, though it is too early to tell if the operation has been a success.
However, the transplant marks a step in the decades-long quest to one day use animal organs for life-saving operations. Doctors said the transplant showed that a heart from a genetically modified animal can function in the human body without immediate rejection.
The patient, David Bennett, 57, knew there was no guarantee the experiment would work, but he was dying, was ineligible for a human heart transplant and had no other option, his son said.
“It was either dying or doing this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last option, ”Bennett said the day before surgery, according to a statement provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
The US has a severe shortage of donated human organs for transplantation, prompting 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 (Unos), which oversees the country’s transplant system.
“If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for suffering patients,” said Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, scientific director of the university’s animal-to-human transplantation program.
But previous attempts at such transplants, or xenotransplants, have failed, largely because the patients’ bodies quickly rejected the animal organ. In particular, in 1984, Baby fairy, a dying baby, lived 21 days with a baboon heart.
Surgeons in Maryland said the difference this time was that they had used a heart from a pig that had undergone gene editing to remove a sugar in its cells that is responsible for hyper-rapid organ rejection.
“I think it can be characterized as a milestone,” said Dr. David Klassen, Unos medical director, of the Maryland transplant.
Still, Klassen cautioned that it’s just a tentative first step in exploring whether this time, xenotransplantation could finally work.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees xenotransplantation experiments, allowed the surgery under what is called an emergency “compassionate use” authorization, available when a patient with a life-threatening condition has no other options.
Last September, researchers in New York conducted an experiment that suggested these types of pigs might hold promise for transplants from animals to humans. Doctors temporarily attached a pig kidney to a deceased human body and watched it begin to function.
The Maryland transplant takes his experiment to the next level, said Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led that experiment at NYU Langone Health.
“This is a truly remarkable development,” he said in a statement. “As a heart transplant recipient, myself with a genetic heart disorder, I am excited by this news and the hope it gives to my family and other patients who will eventually be saved by this advancement.”
Sharing the data collected from this transplant will be crucial before opening up the option to more patients, said Karen Maschke, a research fellow at the Hastings Center, who is helping to develop ethical and policy recommendations for the first clinical trials with a grant from the Institutes. National Health.
“It would not be wise to rush into animal-to-human transplants without this information,” Maschke said.
Last Friday’s surgery lasted seven hours at the Baltimore hospital.
“He realizes the magnitude of what was done and he really realizes how important it is,” David Bennett Jr said of his father. “It couldn’t live, or it could last a day, or it could last a couple of days. I mean, we are in the unknown at this point. “
Associated Press contributed to this report
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism