The first person to receive a pig heart transplant died this week, two months later the operation. The death of Mr. David Bennett it took place at the University of Maryland Medical Center, where he was being treated for pneumonia, and it suddenly got worse.
However, Bennett's son praised the hospital for giving his father this last chance, saying the family hopes this attempt will help find a solution to the organ shortage in the future.
“We are grateful for every moment, every dream and every sleepless night that led to this incredible feat,” said David Bennett, Jr.
Pig heart and other organs
For decades, doctors have tried to transplant animal organs into humans to save lives. Bennett, a handyman from Hagerstown, Maryland, was the right candidate for this new venture simply because he would otherwise be sentenced to death: even after the January 7 operation, he knew there was no guarantee it would work.
“We are devastated by the loss of Mr. Bennett. He was a brave and noble patient who fought to the end, ”said the doctor Bartley Griffith, the surgeon who operated on him.
Scientists modified the animal to combat organ rejection
The surgery requires that the donor's heart be transplanted into a suitable recipient. Because previous xenograft attempts had failed due to the recipient's body's rapid rejection of the foreign organ, doctors in Maryland used a genetically engineered pig heart. Specifically, to remove pig genes that cause hyper-fast rejection.
The course initially seemed good. Bennett's heart was still beating, and the institution had regularly informed the public about his recovery. Among the messages, there was also a video in which Bennet himself was watching TV from his bed while working with his physiotherapist.
It was the most surviving xenograft ever, a new record. The previous one was established in 1984 when Baby Fae, an already seriously ill infant, was transplanted with a baboon's heart.
Organ transplants, another source is needed
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world die each year waiting for an organ. Many still die before being added to long waiting lists. Attempts, including through xenografts, as in the case of this pig heart, are needed.
Pigs have long been used in human medicine, including pig skin grafts and pig heart valve implantation. But whole organ transplantation is much more complex than using highly transformed tissues.
From Mr. Bennett's experience, researchers have gained invaluable insights into how the genetically engineered pig heart works. The next question is whether this lesson is enough to get authorities to approve a clinical trial.