The man who received the first pig heart transplant has died


David Bennett, the 57-year-old man who two months ago had become the first person to receive a genetically modified pig heart, died on the afternoon of March 9 at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).

“We are devastated by the loss of Mr. Bennett. He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought to the end. We express our deepest condolences to his family,” Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, the surgeon who performed the transplant, said in a statement from the UMMC.

Currently, it is unclear whether Bennett’s body has rejected the new organ. “No obvious cause was identified at the time of his death,” a hospital spokesman said.

Bennett had serious heart disease and had agreed to receive the experimental pig heart as his condition did not qualify him to be on the transplant list, nor was he considered eligible for an artificial heart pump due to his arrhythmia.

The surgery was performed after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency authorization through its expanded access provision.

This is used when an experimental medical product or treatment, in this case genetically modified pig heart, is the only option available to a patient facing a serious or life-threatening medical condition.

How was the transplant performed?

The transplant performed on Bennett is a process known as xenotransplantation, and consists of the transplantation of organs between different species. The heart Bennett received came from a 250-pound, year-old pig provided by a regenerative medicine company called Revivicor.

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Among the 10 genetic modifications that were made was the cancellation or deactivation of four genes, including one that encodes a molecule that provokes a rejection response by the human body, and another related to growth, to prevent the pig’s heart from continued to grow after implantation.

The man who received the first pig heart transplant has died

Six human genes were also inserted into the donor pig’s genome to make pig organs more tolerable to the human immune system.

In addition, doctors used an experimental new drug to suppress the immune system and prevent rejection, as well as a new perfusion device to keep the pig heart preserved until the time of surgery.

This link contains images of the surgery that may affect the sensitivity of some people.

This innovative procedure offers hope to millions of patients with defective organs. According to the World Transplant Registry, between 2017 and 2018, more than 139,000 transplants were performed worldwide (representing an increase of 2.3% compared to the previous year).

Despite this increase, the researchers warn that it barely covers 10% of the transplant needs in the world. In the US alone, about 110,000 people await an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 die each year before receiving one.

Expectations for future transplants

Members of the UMMC said they are unable to comment further on Bennett’s cause of death because his doctors have not yet conducted a thorough examination. However, they stated that they plan to publish the results in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

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After lamenting the death, hospital officials expressed their gratitude to Bennet for his contribution to knowledge about the effects of this type of transplant on the body.

Bennett had a “unique and historic role” in helping to contribute a wide range of knowledge to the field of xenotransplantation, acknowledged Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, scientific director of the Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program at the University of Maryland.

The man who received the first pig heart transplant has died

“We have gained invaluable insights by learning that the genetically modified pig heart can function well within the human body as long as the immune system is adequately suppressed. We remain optimistic and plan to continue our work in future clinical trials.”

“As with any first transplant surgery in the world, this one led to valuable insights that will hopefully inform transplant surgeons to improve outcomes and potentially provide life-saving benefits for future patients,” said Dr. Griffith.

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