PETA says “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.”
US surgeons have now managed to transplant a genetically modified pig heart into a human as a last-ditch effort to save the patient’s life.
This news comes after doctors at NYU Langone Health in New York City performed a similar experimental surgery that involved attaching a pig’s kidney to a deceased human body and watched it begin to work, a few months ago.
The pig heart-human transplant marks the first time the procedure has been completed without the immune system of the human body rejecting it.
The surgery is said to have saved 57- year-old David Bennett’s life after heart failure and an irregular heartbeat — made him ineligible for a human heart transplant or a heart pump.
He has already undergone a pig heart valve transplant about a decade ago.
Doctors at the University of Maryland medical center, Washington DC, conducted the heart transplant.
In a statement, the hospital revealed that the patient was doing well three days after the surgery, though it is still early to predict if the operation has been a success, it added.
“It creates the pulse, it creates the pressure, it is his heart,” Dr Bartley Griffith, the director of the cardiac transplant program at the medical center, told The New York Times after performing the surgery.
“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.”
Revivicor – a regenerative medicine company – supplied the pig heart from a 240-pound male standard pig for the procedure.
It used a combination of years of breeding and genetic editing in which scientists removed alpha-gal, a sugar molecule found in the pig’s DNA that would’ve caused a human body to reject the organ and added six human genes that would cause the heart to be accepted.
Once the heart was harvested, it was kept in a special box that supplied it with nutrients and hormones.
The surgery was approved under what’s called a “compassionate use” emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees such experiments. It is granted when a patient with a life-threatening condition has no other options.
“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,” Mr Bennett said in a statement.
“I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”
Could pave the way for future transplants
Medical experts say this breakthrough surgery could pave the way for future transplant procedures. In the US alone, around 110,00 people are waiting for organ transplants and more than 6,000 die each year before they can be matched with an organ donor and brought in for surgery.
“If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering,” Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, scientific director of the Maryland university’s animal-to-human transplant program said.
Transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led the pig kidney- human transplant last September, called the heart transplant a “truly remarkable breakthrough”.
Dr. Montgomery, who has had a heart transplant himself, said: “As a heart transplant recipient, myself with a genetic heart disorder, I am thrilled by this news and the hope it gives to my family and other patients who will eventually be saved by this breakthrough.
‘Unethical, dangerous, and a tremendous waste of resources’
While the medical fraternity raves about future possibilities if this surgery is deemed successful, animal welfare organizations argue the concept is unethical.
Vegan charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said the issue of organ shortage can be solved without animal involvement.
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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