A dying man has become the first patient in the world to get a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig.
Terminal heart failure sufferer David Bennett underwent the nine-hour experimental procedure at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore on Saturday.
Surgeons used a heart taken from a pig that had undergone gene-editing to make it less likely that his body’s immune system would reject the organ.
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Mr. Bennett, 57, is breathing on his own while still connected to a machine that helps his new heart pump blood around his body.
Experts say it is too soon to know if his body will fully accept the organ and the next few weeks will be critical as he is weaned off the machine.
But, if successful, it would mark a medical breakthrough and could save thousands of lives in the US alone each year. Doctors called the procedure a ‘watershed event’.
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Bennett, a laborer, knew there was no guarantee the risky operation would work but was too sick to qualify for a human organ. A day before his pioneering surgery, Bennett said it was ‘either die or do this transplant’, adding: ‘I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.’
Dr Bartley Griffith, the director of the cardiac transplant program at the medical center, who performed the operation, said he first broached the experimental treatment in mid-December.
He said it was a ‘memorable’ and ‘pretty strange’ conversation.
‘I said, “We can’t give you a human heart; you don’t qualify. But maybe we can use one from an animal, a pig,”‘ Dr. Griffith said.
It’s never been done before, but we think we can do it.
‘I wasn’t sure he was understanding me,’ Dr Griffith added.
‘Then he said, “Well, will I oink?”‘
Bennett, who has spent the last several months bedridden on a heart-lung bypass machine, said: ‘I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.’
His prognosis is uncertain. On Monday, Bennett was breathing on his own while still connected to a heart-lung machine to help his new heart.
The next few weeks will be critical as Bennett recovers from the surgery and doctors carefully monitor how his heart is faring.
How the pig’s heart was successfully transplanted into a human
- A pig heart was gathered for a terminal heart disease patient who was ineligible for a human heart transplant.
- Scientists inserted six human genes into the genome of the donor pig — modifications designed to make the organ more tolerable to the human immune system.
- They inactivated four genes, including sugar in its cells that is responsible for that hyper-fast organ rejection and a growth gene to prevent the pig’s heart, which weighs around 267g compared to the average human heart which weighs 303g, from continuing to expand.
- Surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center performed a nine-hour surgery to remove the patient’s heart and insert the altered pig heart