A man in the US has been implanted with a genetically modified pig heart in a first-of-its-kind surgery. The man, who was suffering from terminal heart disease, is reportedly doing well, his doctors reported on Monday, three days after the transplant.
The surgery was performed by a team at the University of Maryland Medicine. It is among the first medical procedures to demonstrate the possibility of a pig-to-human heart transplant. If proven successful, it is possible that pig organs could help alleviate shortages of donor organs, with other organs from pigs being researched for transplantation into humans include kidneys, liver and lungs.
Prior efforts at pig-to-human transplants have failed because of genetic differences that caused organ rejection or viruses that posed an infection risk. The new attempt has been made possible by new gene editing tools.
A hog heart at the time of slaughter is roughly the size of an adult human heart. In the heart which was implanted, three genes previously linked with organ rejection were edited out of the donor pig, and six human genes linked with immune acceptance were inserted into the pig genome. Researchers also removed a pig gene to prevent excessive growth of the pig heart tissue.
The genetically modified pig heart was provided by Revivicor, a regenerative medicine company based in Virginia. On the morning of the surgery, the transplant team removed the pig’s heart and preserved its function by placing it into a special device until the surgery.
Dr. Bartley Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig heart into the patient, said the ‘breakthrough surgery’ closes the gap on solving the organ shortage crisis: “There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients,” he commented.
He also said that they would be proceeding cautiously, but are also optimistic that this surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future.
Mr David Bennett, 57, who received the heart transplant said in a statement the day before his 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.”
The university had to first obtain an emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on New Year’s Eve through its compassionate use program.
“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,” said Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, head of the University’s program on xenotransplantation – transplanting animal organs into humans.
The work was funded in part with a $15.7 million research grant to evaluate Revivicor’s genetically-modified pig hearts in baboon studies.