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Surgeons Complete World’s First Heart Transplant with a Modified Pig Heart

Health

Medical Staff perform open heart surgery | Image by Army Medicine on Flickr

During a national organ crisis, a new surgery shows promising results for the future of heart transplants. For the first time, US doctors transplanted a pig heart into a human body, without immediate rejection of the organ, the BBC said. 

The surgery was possible due to an emergency authorization of the operation by the FDA, which has been met with mixed opinions. Currently, around 100,000 people require an organ transplant, states the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

Officials hope the use of animal organs in such transplants will revolutionize the transplant operation as a whole and help remedy the organ shortage.

David Bennett is the man who received the heart transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Bennett is 57 years old, and was dying of heart disease, but wasn’t eligible for any heart transplants. The FDA approved the University of Maryland’s operation, and Bennett was given a genetically modified pig heart in place of his own.

Pig hearts have become the forefront of possible animal heart transplants after Crispr gene-editing allowed for the pig virus gene to be omitted. Additional changes in the genetics of these pigs make their hearts compatible with humans.

After a seven-hour operation, Bennett stabilized afterward.

The surgery was no doubt risky, as Bennett had to be immunosuppressed much more than normal, doctors said. However, three days later, Bennett was reported to be breathing on his own. This is a good marker of Bennett’s recovery, but doctors are not exactly sure what happens next. Individuals who had animal hearts transplanted before had eventually rejected the organ, such as the case of an infant in 1980 who received a baboon heart.

In October, doctors had successfully given a person a pig kidney in a breakthrough transplant. In addition, pig’s heart valves have been put into humans for over 50 years, according to a paper by Science Direct.

Surgeon Bartley Griffith stated, “This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis.” Many people are currently waiting to find compatible organs for transplants, and using animal organs could help solve that. However, some have their concerns about the procedure. Dr. Chandra from PETA claims “The risk of transmitting unknown viruses along with the animal organ are real and, in the time of a pandemic, should be enough to end these studies forever.”

David Bennett reportedly was told that the surgery was risky, but he knew it was his only chance of survival. Bennett said he “looks forward to getting out of bed after I recover,” according to the Associated Press. 

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