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Man Gets New Heart From Genetically Modified Pig—A First For Medicine

Published 12 days ago
By Forbes
Getty Images

TOPLINE

A 57-year-old Maryland man has become the first person to receive a heart that was grown in a genetically altered pig, according to the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), marking a medical first after years of research into whether pigs could be used to supplement a critical shortage of human organs.

KEY FACTS

David Bennett underwent a procedure that reportedly took at least seven hours at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore on Friday.

It’s not known how Bennett will fare long-term, but he’s doing well three days after the surgery, according to multiple reports.

Bennett had been connected to a heart-lung bypass machine prior to the surgery and remains on it, according to the New York Times, but he’s passed the 48-hour mark considered critical to determine whether the organ will be rejected.

Bennett had run out of options before the surgery: he was too ill to qualify for a human transplant and was ineligible for an artificial heart pump due to a life-threatening arrhythmia, according to UMSOM.

The Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization on New Year’s Eve through its compassionate use provision for surgeons to take the medical gamble.

Bennett, facing certain death at the time from heart disease, asked doctors “Well, will I oink?” when they first discussed the idea of a pig heart transplant with him, Dr. Bartley Griffith told the New York Times.

CRUCIAL QUOTE

“It was either die or do this transplant,” Bennett said the day before the surgery, according to the UMSOM. “I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.” 

SURPRISING FACT

Three genes responsible for human rejection were “knocked out” in the pig, according to UMSOM, while six additional genes needed for human immune acceptance were added into the pig’s genome. One other gene was knocked out to ensure the pig’s heart would not continue growing inside a human body.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Bennett could be taken off the heart-lung bypass machine on Tuesday, according to the Times.

KEY BACKGROUND

Medical researchers have long been pinning their hopes on pigs being used for life-saving human organ transplants, and had a breakthrough in October, when surgeons at NYU Langone Health in New York City successfully attached a pig kidney to a brain-dead human body. Researchers observed the kidney functioning on the body, which was on life support, for 54 hours as part of the study, leaving many hopeful that pig organs could be used on living humans. Pigs are largely seen as the animal of choice for future transplants since they can reach adult size in six months, and their heart valves have already been used for human transplants.

BIG NUMBER

17. That’s how many people die in the U.S. each day while awaiting an organ transplant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

FURTHER READING

In a First, Man Receives a Heart From a Genetically Altered Pig (New York Times)

By Nicholas Reimann, Forbes Staff

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