David Bennett, 57, is doing well several days after the experimental seven-hour procedure in Baltimore, doctors say. The transplant was considered the last hope of saving Mr. Bennett’s life, though it is not yet clear what his long-term chances of survival are.
Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Centre were granted a special dispensation by the US medical regulator to carry out the procedure, on the basis that Mr. Bennett — who has terminal heart disease — would otherwise have died. He had been deemed ineligible for a human transplant, a decision that is often taken by doctors when the patient is in very poor health.
The pig used in the transplant had been genetically modified to knock out several genes that would have led to the organ being rejected by Mr. Bennett’s body.
For the medical team who carried out the transplant, it marks the culmination of years of research and could change lives around the world.
Surgeon Bartley Griffith said the surgery would bring the world ‘one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis’. Currently 17 people die every day in the US waiting for a transplant, with more than 100,000 reportedly on the waiting list.
Dr. Christine Lau, Chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was in the operating theatre during the surgery.
“He’s at more of a risk because we require more immunosuppression, slightly different than we would normally do in a human-to-human transplant. How well the patient does from now is, you know, it’s never been done before so we really don’t know,” she said. “People die all the time on the waiting list, waiting for organs. If we could use genetically engineered pig organs they’d never have to wait, they could basically get an organ as they needed it. Plus, we wouldn’t have to fly all over the country at night-time to recover organs to put them into recipients.”
The possibility of using animal organs for so-called xenotransplantation to meet the demand has long been considered, and using pig heart valves is already common.
In October 2021, surgeons in New York announced that they had successfully transplanted a pig’s kidney into a person. However, the recipient on that occasion was brain dead with no hope of recovery.