A 57-year-old U.S. man is reportedly doing good three days after receiving a genetically modified pig heart, which is a first-of-its-kind heart transplant surgery. The news was announced by Maryland hospital in a press release on Monday.
Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center said that the transplant showed that a heart from a genetically modified animal can function in the human body without immediate rejection.
The patient, David Bennett, a Maryland handyman, knew there was no guarantee the experiment would work but he was dying, ineligible for a human heart transplant and had no other option, as per reports.
“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 the surgery, according to a statement provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
On Monday, the patient was breathing on his own while he was still connected to a heart-lung machine to help his new heart. Doctors said that the next few weeks will be critical as Bennett will be recovering from the surgery and they will be carefully monitoring how the heart is faring.
“If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering,” said Dr Muhammad Mohiuddin, scientific director of the Maryland University's animal-to-human transplant program.
Bennett's genetically modified pig heart was provided by Revivicor, a regenerative medicine company based in Blacksburg, 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.
Notably, pigs have long been a tantalizing source of potential transplants because their organs are similar to humans. A hog heart at the time of slaughter, for example, is about the size of an adult human heart.
Other organs from pigs being researched for transplantation into humans include kidneys, liver and lungs.
Prior efforts at pig-to-human transplants have failed because of genetic differences that caused organ rejection or viruses that posed an infection risk.
Scientists have tackled that problem by editing away potentially harmful genes.