First Pig Heart Transplant Offers Hope for Organ Shortage Crisis

Health News
3 min read
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In a first, doctors in Maryland have transplanted a genetically modified pig's heart into a 57-year-old man with life-threatening heart disease.

This groundbreaking treatment procedure opens up a new opportunity to save lives of critical patients with failing organs, say experts.

The transplant was conducted successfully on Friday, 7 January, reported The New York Times.

The procedure took a total of 8 hours.

Surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center reported on Monday 10 January, that the patient, David Bennett was doing well three days after the surgery.

However, the surgeons have also warned that it is too soon to comment on whether the operation is a complete success as it was highly experimental.

How the Surgery Went

The patient was aware of the fact that it was an experimental surgery and the risks involved.

However, he had exhausted other treatments and would have died without a new heart, reports The New York Times.

He was also too weak to accept the heart of a human donor, the doctors and family members said.

David Bennett said a day before the surgery, "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.”

After the operation, Dr. Bartley Griffith, the director of the cardiac transplant program at the medical center, who also performed the surgery said, “it creates the pulse, it creates the pressure, it is his heart.”

“It’s working and it looks normal. We are thrilled, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring us. This has never been done before.”
Dr. Bartley Griffith, the Director of the Cardiac Transplant Program at the medical center, quoted by The New York Times.

The surgeons reported on Monday 10 January, that the patient was doing fine, although he was still connected to the heart-lung machine to support his new heart.

They have plans to take the patient off the machine on 11 January, since his new heart is able to function and do most of the work normally.

The doctors are also closely monitoring David Bennett to see if he is developing any infections such as porcine retrovirus. This is a pig virus that maybe transmitted to humans, even though the risk is low, reported The New York Times.


Experts on Animal Organ Transplantation

According to experts, this transplant of a genetically modified pig's heart into a human is a breakthrough discovery as it can help ease the crisis of organ shortage.

Each day, about a dozen people die due to acute organ shortage, reports The New York Times. The demands is always greater than the supply.

Scientists have worked to develop pigs with the help of new gene editing and cloning technologies so that the human body would not reject their organs.

Researchers believe these new inventions will help to open up various treatment avenues for people with failing organs.

“This is a watershed event. Doors are starting to open that will lead, I believe, to major changes in how we treat organ failure.”
Dr David Klassen, the chief medical officer of the United Network for Organ Sharing and a transplant physician, quoted by The New York Times.

Dr David Klassen also warned, "events like these can be dramatised in the press, and it’s important to maintain perspective.”

“It takes a long time to mature a therapy like this”, he said.

Experts and doctors believe animal organ transplantation could be the modern approach towards handling organ shortage.

(Written with inputs from The New York Times.)

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