Health

World’s First Pig Heart Transplant To Human Proves Successful

National World

In yet another amazing feat in the medical world, they broke another record after a man received a successful heart transplant, except this time, they gave him the heart of a pig.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), who released the details of the operation, explained that this was the only option for survival for Mr. David Bennett from Maryland. The 57-year-old handyman had been diagnosed with a terminal heart disease while at the same time, was not eligible for a traditional type of transplant.

Three days since the operation took place, UMMC officials share that Mr. Bennett has been doing well so far. And the genetically modified pig heart is functioning just like a human heart would, and it hasn’t been immediately rejected by the body. Doctors are also monitoring his progress closely, also to observe if this transplant will be able to give lifesaving benefits.

According to the university’s press release on the day before he had the operation, Mr. Bennett shared, “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.” Mr. Bennet had been hospitalized and bedridden just a few months before, so he explained, “I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”

 

Authorized By the FDA

Mr. Bennett was able to get the surgery through an emergency authorization that was granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of its expanded compassionate use provision. This particular policy allows experimental medical product – which was the genetically modified pig’s heart in this case – to be used as the only option available for patients dealing with severe or life-threatening medical conditions.

At the same time, public health officials also see promise in this type of ‘animal-to-human’ transplants, in order to help deal with the shortage of needed human organs in the medical world. According to the OrganDonor.gov, over 106,000 men, women, and children are listed on the national transplant waiting list, while the FDA has said that currently 10 patients die every day within the United States alone because of being on the transplant waiting list because they weren’t able to receive their essential lifesaving organ for transplant.

Professor of transplant surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Bartley P. Griffith, MD, who was the doctor in charge of surgically transplanting the pig heart into the patient, said, “This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis.” Dr. Griffith is also the director of the cardiac transplant program at UMMC.

He added, “There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients. We are proceeding cautiously, but we are also optimistic that this first-in-the-world surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future.”

Meanwhile, Muhammad Mohiuddin, MD, who is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on transplanting animal organs – called xenotransplantation – who is also a professor of surgery at University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a U.S. News & World Report, “If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering.”

 

No Smooth Sailing For Xenotransplantation

It’s been a long and arduous journey to finally get to a successful animal-to-human transplant. The first trials were done back in the 1980s, but ended up getting abandoned due to a famous case that went sour. Baby Stephanie Fae Beauclair – also known as Baby Fae – from the Loma Linda University in California, was born with a fatal heart condition. She was given a baboon heart but died after a month when her immune system ended up rejecting the foreign heart. As for pig hearts, they have actually had success in valve replacements in human for years, due to a number of physiological similarities found in humans and pigs.

As for Bennet, he couldn’t get on the transplant list because he had arrhythmia, which made him ineligible for the artificial heart. And despite knowing the risks of the transplant, he chose to say yes because it was his only chance to remain alive. He was admitted to the hospital over six weeks before due his life-threatening arrhythmia, connected to a extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which is a heart-lung bypass machine in order to stay alive.

 

High Immune Response Risk in Transplantation Surgery

With any transplant surgery, there is a high risk, but more so for xenotransplantation due to the risk of triggering an adverse immune response. But for this particular surgery, it was different from the other failed animal-to-human transplant attempts because the pig donor had been altered ‘to inhibit organ rejection and improve immune response. Three genes – responsible for rapid antibody-mediated rejection of pig organs by humans – were “knocked out” in the donor pig.’

There were six human genes inserted into the genome, which are responsible for immune acceptance of the pig heart. In addition, there was one additional gene in the pig that was removed to prevent excessive growth of the pig heart tissue. All these changes totaled 10 unique gene edits in the donor pig.

The team of surgeons also used a new medication – along with the traditional anti-rejection drugs – which are designed to suppress the immune system in order to prevent the body from rejecting the foreign organ in the body.

During October of last year, there was another animal-to-human transplant of a pig kidney attached to a brain dead women, which showed major promise when it managed to function for at least three days.

Mohan Suntha, MD, who happens to be the president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System, explained in a press release, “We appreciate the tremendous courage of this live recipient, who has made an extraordinary decision to participate in this groundbreaking procedure to not only potentially extend his own life, but also for the future benefit of others.”