In unprecedented transplant, man receives pig heart

Doctors at the University of Maryland hold a pig's heart.  Genes that cause rejection in humans have been inactivatedA genetically modified organ was successfully transplanted in the US to a 57-year-old man, who, three days after the surgery, was doing well. Technique could revolutionize medicine. US doctors have successfully implanted the heart of a genetically modified pig in a 57-year-old man with terminal heart disease – a first in medicine that could help solve the shortage of donated organs. The University of Maryland School of Medicine announced on Monday that the “historic” procedure was performed by one of its teams last Friday and that the patient, David Bennett, is doing well. For Bennett, the unprecedented transplant was his last chance. Because he had heart failure and an irregular heartbeat, he had been ruled ineligible for a human transplant – a decision that is often made when the recipient’s health is fragile. He is now recovering and being carefully monitored to determine how the new organ works. “It was either die or have this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a long shot, but it’s my last chance,” said the patient, who resides in Maryland, a day before the surgery. He spent the last few months in bed, hooked up to a cardiopulmonary bypass machine. On Monday, three days after the surgery, Bennett was breathing autonomously, while still connected to a heart support machine. “Revolutionary Surgery” The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency authorization for the surgery on New Year’s Eve. “It was a revolutionary surgery that takes us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis,” said Dr. Bartley Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig’s heart. “We are proceeding with caution, but we are also optimistic that this world-first surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future.” Muhammad Mohiuddin, who co-founded the university’s heart xenotransplantation program, added that the surgery, which took seven hours, was the result of years or research, involving transplants from pig to baboons, with survival times that exceeded nine months. “The successful procedure provided valuable information to help the medical community improve this potentially life-saving method for future patients,” he said. Gene editing Three genes that would lead to a rejection of pig organs by humans were inactivated, as was a gene that would lead to an overgrowth of pig heart tissue. And six human genes responsible for human acceptance were inserted into the genome. Gene editing of the total of ten genes was carried out by the Virginia-based biotechnology company Revivicor and was funded, in part, with a $15.7 million research grant. Revivicor also supplied the pig used in a first-of-its-kind swine kidney transplant for a brain-dead patient in New York last October. The crucial difference is that while in October’s surgery the kidney was plugged outside the patient’s body, just as an experiment, the new operation was intended to save a person’s life. The donated heart was kept in a preservation device before surgery, and the medical team used an experimental drug from pharmaceutical company Kliniksa along with conventional anti-rejection drugs to suppress the immune system. History of attempts Doctors have long been interested in so-called xenotranplants, that is, in using animal organs in humans, and the first experiments date back to the 17th century. The first research focused on primate organs. A baboon heart was transplanted into a newborn in 1984, for example, but the baby only survived 20 days. Currently, pig heart valves are widely used in humans, and pig skin is grafted to people who suffer burns. According to Benett’s son, the father received a pig valve about ten years ago. Pigs are considered ideal donors because their organs are so similar to humans, in addition to the fact that they grow quickly, have large litters and are already raised as a food source. In addition to heart and kidney, liver and lung transplants from pigs to humans are also being studied. lf (AFP, Reuters, Lusa)

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