The transplant was hailed a “truly remarkable breakthrough,” which could pave the way for future procedures.
A US man, who became the first-ever recipient of a pig heart died two months after undergoing the world-first’s transplant surgery.
57-year-old David Bennett, a terminal heart disease patient, received the transplant on 7th January.
The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), where Bennet was admitted informed that his condition began deteriorating several days ago, and he was given “compassionate palliative care” after it became clear that he would not recover.
“[He] wasn’t able to overcome what turned out to be the devastating debilitation” caused by the heart failure he experienced before the transplant,” Dr. Bartley Griffith, director of the UMCC cardiac transplant program, said in a recorded statement.
First animal-human heart transplant
Bennett, who first came to UMMC as a patient in October was deemed ineligible for a conventional heart transplant due to his poor health. He was instead placed on a heart-lung bypass machine.
However, since his condition was critical, he became the unlikely candidate to receive the pig heart that had been modified to prevent rejection with the use of new gene editing tools.
The never-done-before surgery was granted by the Food and Drug Administration under emergency authorization.
According to Griffith, the transplanted heart functioned “beautifully”.
Dr. Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, director of the university’s Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program, in a video statement added: “Until day 45 or 50, he was doing very well, but off and on, he was having infectious episodes.
“We were having difficulty finding a balance between his immunosuppression and controlling his infection. Unfortunately, multiple organs started to fail, and finally, I think that resulted in his passing away.”
In the two months following the procedure, Bennett was able to spend time with family and watch the Super Bowl with his physical therapist.
‘Do people really want a genetically modified pig’s heart inside them?’
Despite the outcome, many of the medical fraternity called the heart transplant a “truly remarkable breakthrough,” which could pave the way for future procedures.
Currently 17 people die every day in the US waiting for a transplant, with more than 100,000 reportedly on the waiting list.
Bennett’s son, David Bennett, Jr., who described the surgery as a ‘miracle’ said: “We hope this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end,” in the University’s statement.
“We also hope that what was learned from his surgery will benefit future patients and hopefully one day, end the organ shortage that costs so many lives each year.”
However, animal advocates have since the outset questioned the ethical aspect of the process and whether the American public really want a genetically modified pig’s heart inside them?
Vegan charity PETA branded Bennett’s surgery “unethical, dangerous, and a tremendous waste of resources.”
The organisation added that organ shortages can be solved without animals, and that the US should instead appeal for an “opt-in” donation policy rather than an “opt-out.”
Dr. Alka Chandna, PETA’s vice president of laboratory investigations cases said: “Animal-to-human transplants are unethical, dangerous, and a tremendous waste of resources that could be used to fund research that might actually help humans.
“The risk of transmitting unknown viruses along with the animal organ are real and, in the time of a pandemic, should be enough to end these studies forever.
“Animals aren’t toolsheds to be raided but complex, intelligent beings. It would be better for them and healthier for humans to leave them alone and seek cures using modern science.”
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