Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

Surgeons hope that genetic modifications will help the patient’s body to accept the organ and that pig organs can help alleviate donor organ deficiencies

A man with terminal heart disease responds well three days after being given a genetically modified pig heart in a first of its kind operation, his doctors reported Monday.

The operation, performed by a team at the University of Maryland Medicine in the United States, is one of the first to demonstrate the feasibility of a pig-to-human heart transplant, a field made possible by new gene-editing tools. .

If proven successful, scientists hope that pig organs can help alleviate donor organ deficiencies.

“It was a breakthrough operation and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis. There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients, ”said Dr Bartley Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig heart into the patient, in a statement.

“We are proceeding cautiously, but we are also optimistic that this first-in-the-world operation will provide an important new option for patients in the future,” Griffith added.

For David Bennett, a 57-year-old from Maryland, the heart transplant was his last option.

“It was either dying or doing 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 his operation, according to a statement released by the university.

David Bennett, a 57-year-old patient with terminal heart disease, poses with his surgeon.  Bennett sits up straight in his hospital bed and has a tube on his nose David Bennett, 57, poses with surgeon Bartley P Griffith before receiving the transplant of a genetically modified pig heart at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore [University of Maryland School of Medicine via Reuters]

To continue the experimental surgery, on New Year’s Eve, the university obtained authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration through its compassionate use program.

“The FDA used our data and data on the experimental pig to authorize the transplantation into an end-stage heart disease patient who had no other treatment options,” said Dr Muhammad Mohiuddin, head of the University’s program on xenograft – transplantation of animal organs into humans.

About 110,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before receiving one, according to

Bennett’s genetically modified pig heart was supplied by Revivicor, a regenerative medicine company in Virginia. The morning of the operation, the transplant team removed the pig’s heart and placed it in a special device to maintain its function until the operation.

Pigs have long been a stimulating source of potential transplants because their organs are so similar to humans.

Other organs of pigs that are researched for transplantation into humans include kidneys, liver and lungs.

Previous attempts at pig-to-human transplants have failed due to genetic differences that caused organ rejection or viruses that posed a risk of infection.

Scientists have tackled that problem by modifying potentially harmful genes.

In the heart implanted in Bennett, three genes previously linked to organ rejection were “knocked out” of the donor pig, and six human genes linked to immune acceptance were inserted into the pig genome.

Researchers also deleted a pig gene to prevent excessive growth of the pig heart tissue.

The work was partially funded by a $ 15.7 million research grant to evaluate Revivicor’s genetically modified pig hearts in baboon studies.

In addition to the genetic changes to the pig heart, Bennett received an experimental anti-rejection drug.

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