American surgeons have successfully transplanted a pig’s heart into a patient, the University of Maryland School of Medicine has announced. The operation was carried out on Friday January 7 and made it possible to show 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, had been declared ineligible to receive 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 medical school.
→ READ. The great saga of organ transplants
“I can’t wait to be able to get out of bed once I’m well,” continued the patient, who has spent the last few months bedridden and hooked up to a machine that kept him alive. The US Medicines Agency (FDA) gave the green light for the operation on New Year’s Eve.
“Major surgical breakthrough”
“This is a major surgical breakthrough 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 we 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 so that it no longer produces a type of sugar which is 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 prior to the operation, and the team also used an investigational 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 waiting list for organ transplants, and more than 6,000 people who need transplants die each year in the country.