In a groundbreaking medical procedure that may change the future of organ transplants as we know it, a 57-year old patient at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore has successfully received a pig’s heart to replace his own failing organ.
Dr. Bartley Griffith and his team performed the 8-hour operation on January 7th. This is the first time a pig heart has been successfully been transplanted into a live human being. Organ recipient David Bennett is awake, and after a weekend in recovery, the heart is functioning well.
An incredible step forward for medical science, the operation gives new hope to the tens of thousands of Americans who are in desperate need of new organs.
Bennett was offered the chance to undergo the highly experimental surgery when the viable heart he need was not found. Bennett agreed to take the risk and take part in the trailblazing medical procedure. He likely would have passed away without it. While he is still connected to a heart bypass machine (as all new transplant recipients are), Dr. Griffith states the new heart is already doing much of the work functioning as his heart. The crucial first 48 hours passed without any sign of rejection. Griffith recounts an amusing conversation between himself and Bennett before the operation, when after being told he could receive a pig’s heart, Bennett responded: “Well, Will I oink?”
Over 40 thousand Americans a year require organ transplants, and the shortage of viable donors is a huge problem. On any average day, a dozen patients die while awaiting an organ. To attempt to aid in the massive urgent demand, scientists have worked for years to genetically modify pigs in a way that allows for xenotransplantation, the act of transplanting live tissues and organs from animals to human recipients. A regular pig’s heart would be rejected by the human body and fail to function, and the pig heart in Bennett’s transplant came from a genetically enhanced pig, bred specifically to provide the organs necessary to perform life saving transplants.
We wish Mr. Bennett well, and hope to hear of more progress in the future that could lead to life-saving transplants for thousands.