WEDNESDAY, March 9, 2022 (HealthDay News) — The first person to receive a pig heart transplant in a groundbreaking procedure performed at the University of Maryland Medical Center in January has died, hospital officials said Wednesday.
David Bennett, a 57-year-old Marylander, suffered from severe heart disease and had agreed to receive the experimental pig’s heart after he was rejected from several waiting lists to receive a human heart. He died Tuesday.
Whether his body had rejected the foreign organ was unclear. “There was no obvious cause identified at the time of his death,” a hospital spokeswoman told The New York Times, adding that Bennett’s physicians had yet to conduct a thorough examination and plan to publish their findings in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Bennett’s transplant is still considered a significant step forward, because the pig heart was not immediately rejected and continued to function for well over a month, passing a critical milestone for transplant patients, The Times reported. Bennett was being monitored closely after his procedure. Before the surgery, he was connected to a heart-lung bypass machine to stay alive, but he had been deemed ineligible for an artificial heart pump due to a dangerous heart arrhythmia.
“This is the culmination of years of highly complicated research to hone this technique in animals with survival times that have reached beyond nine months,” Muhammed Mohiuddin, M.D., one of the world’s top experts in animal organ transplants who cocreated the university’s Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program, said in a medical center news release before the operation. “The successful procedure provided valuable information to help the medical community improve this potentially lifesaving method in future patients.”
After the procedure was complete, the doctors used an experimental drug developed by Mohiuddin and Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals, providing it to Bennett alongside conventional antirejection drugs. Organs from genetically modified pigs are favored in xenotransplantation research, partly because of their physiological similarities to humans and primates.
In this particular donor pig, three genes that raise the risk for rejection were knocked out, while six human genes responsible for immune acceptance of the pig heart were inserted into the pig’s genome. Lastly, one final gene in the pig was knocked out to prevent excessive growth of the pig heart tissue, the doctors said.
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