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U.S. surgeons transplant pig heart to human patient


Surgical team members show the pig heart they transplanted into David Bennett last Friday. Associated Press/Photo by Mark Teske via University of Maryland School of Medicine

U.S. surgeons transplant pig heart to human patient

The 57-year-old Maryland handyman is recovering well and breathing on his own a few days after receiving a pig’s heart in an experimental transplant surgery, doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine said Monday. David Bennett, who had heart failure and an irregular heartbeat, was ineligible for a human heart transplant or a heart pump, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed the groundbreaking surgery on Friday under a “compassionate use” emergency authorization. It is the first time a pig heart has been successfully transplanted into a human.

Is he recovering well? Doctors said the next few weeks are critical as they monitor how Bennett’s new heart is faring. In one notable prior attempt of an animal-to-human heart transplant in 1983, a child known as Baby Fae lived for 21 days with a baboon heart. This time, scientists gene-edited the pig heart to remove a sugar in its cells that normally causes rapid organ rejection. Dr. Bartley Griffith, who performed Friday’s surgery, had previously transplanted pig hearts into about 50 baboons.

Dig deeper: Read Heather Frank’s report in Beginnings on ethical debates over animal-human transplants.


Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.

@onize_ohiks

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SuperAndy

Why is the patient “ ineligible for a human heart transplant or a heart pump?” I read that and think the system is refusing to treat his condition in a traditional manner, so the patient considers an experimental procedure.

SAWGUNNER

Genetically engineered histocompatibility is a good thing.
But of course there will only be a limited supply of these hearts at any moment. Some years back I read about a young man with criminal history who received a donor heart. He and the donated heart perished when he crashed his car fleeing the police.
This can go before the Ethics committee.

SJS

Incredible! This would truly be a breakthrough. There are very long waits for human hearts for transplants. Some people die before receiving one. Fortunately medical science has developed LVADs. These are devices that initially were designed to be a "bridge" to transplant. They were intended to keep people alive while they awaited a heart. Then it was found that many with an LVAD could come off the transplant list and would not need a new heart. But this is stop gap and there are, of course, a variety of issues with LVADs (and BiVADs and RVADs...). So this truly is a breakthrough.

I realize there are and will be ethical if not moral concerns about taking a pig heart and putting it onto a human. But that is a story for another day.

Clint

"It's a turn-around jump shot,
it's everybody jump start,
it's every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.
Medicine is magical and magical is art,
think of the boy in the bubble,
and the baby with the baboon heart."
- Paul Simon