Jan 10, 2022 - Health

Man receives heart transplant from a genetically altered pig

Surgeons performing the operation at University of Maryland Medical Center

Surgeons performing the operation at University of Maryland Medical Center. Photo: Tom Jemski/UMSOM Public Affairs

For the first time, a patient with life-threatening heart disease received a heart from a genetically modified pig, the University of Maryland Medical Center announced on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The patient, 57-year-old David Bennett, is still doing well three days later, proving for the first time a "genetically-modified animal heart can function like a human heart without immediate rejection by the body," UMMC said. The surgery has the potential to provide hope to hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide, the New York Times notes.

Context: Around 110,000 Americans are waiting for an organ transplant and more than 6,000 die each year before receiving one, according UMMC.

  • This type of transplant, known as xenotransplantation, was pioneered at Maryland by Muhammad Mohiuddin.
  • Xenotransplants were first tried in the 1980s but were abandoned soon after.

Details: Bennett, the patient, had been deemed ineligible for a standard heart transplant.

  • "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," Bennett said, per UMMC.
  • The FDA granted emergency authorization for the surgery on New Year's Eve for this operation, in the hopes that it would save Bennett.

What they're saying: "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," said Bartley Griffith, the surgeon who performed the operation.

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