57-year-old man receives functioning pig heart in surgical ‘breakthrough’

Ailan Evans, DCNF

Surgeons successfully transplanted a genetically-modified pig heart into a man suffering from terminal heart disease, the first procedure of its kind.

University of Maryland School of Medicine faculty performed the surgery on David Bennett, a 57-year-old Maryland man, the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) announced Monday. Bennett had been bedridden in hospital in the months prior to the surgery, and would likely die without it.

“This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis,” Dr. Bartley Griffith, the surgeon who performed the transplant, said in a statement. “There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients.”

The pig’s heart was genetically modified to ensure that Bennett’s body wouldn’t reject it immediately, according to UMMC. Doctors are currently monitoring Bennett’s condition and assessing whether the transplant will save his life. 

“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 in a statement before the surgery was performed.  “I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”

Bennett had been deemed an unsuitable candidate for a human heart transplant, according to UMMC. He had been admitted to the hospital due to life-threatening arrhythmia and agreed to undergo the procedure after being briefed on the potential risks.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had granted an emergency authorization for the surgery on Dec. 31, 2021, under the “compassionate use” provision which allowed the surgeons to perform the transplant with a pig heart as it was the only option available to save Bennett’s life.

“The FDA used our data and data on the experimental pig to authorize the transplant in an end-stage heart disease patient who had no other treatment options,” Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, professor of surgery at the medical school, said in a statement. “The successful procedure provided valuable information to help the medical community improve this potentially life-saving method in future patients.”

UMMC cited statistics from the Health Resources and Services Administration showing that roughly 6,000 Americans die while awaiting organ transplants, partially due to a shortage of organs, as justification for further researching transplants with non-human organs.

The medical school’s faculty heralded the procedure as a major advance in medical science.

“This is a breakthrough for the field of organ transplantation and medicine,” Dr. Daniel Maluf, professor of surgery and medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a statement. “This event is the final achievement of years of research and testing from our multidisciplinary team led by Dr. Griffith and Dr. Mohiuddin and represents a beginning of a new era in the field of organ transplantation medicine. I am proud of our team’s incredible achievement.”

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