The first person to receive a heart transplant from a dead pig, two months after the groundbreaking trial, the Maryland hospital where the surgery was performed announced Wednesday.
David Bennett, 57, died Tuesday at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Doctors did not give an exact cause of death, only saying that his condition had begun to deteriorate a few days earlier.
Bennett’s son praised the hospital for providing the ultimate experiment, saying the family hoped it would help further efforts to end the organ shortage.
“We are grateful for every moment of renewal, every crazy dream, every sleepless night that went into this historic endeavor,” David Bennett Jr. said in a statement released by the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “We hope this story may be the beginning of hope, not the end.”
Doctors for decades have been looking for ways to use animal organs for life-saving transplants one day. Bennett, a manual laborer from Hagerstown, Maryland, is a candidate for this latest effort simply because he has faced certain death — ineligible for a human heart transplant, paralyzed bed and life support, among other options.
After the January 7 operation, Bennett’s son told the Associated Press his father knew there was no guarantee it would work.
Previous attempts at such transplants — or xenot-ransplant transplants — have largely failed because the patient’s body quickly rejects the animal’s organs. This time, surgeons in Maryland used a heart from a gene-edited pig: Scientists modified the animal to remove the pig genes that trigger super-fast elimination and adding human genes to help the body accept organs.
At first, the pig’s heart was working fine, and the Maryland hospital periodically gave updates that Bennett appeared to be recovering. Last month, the hospital released a video of him watching the Super Bowl from his hospital bed while working with a physiotherapist.
Bennett survived significantly longer with the gene-edited pig heart than in one of the last milestones of the xenot transplant process – when Baby Fae, a dying infant in California, lived to 21 Day with the heart of a baboon in 1984.
“We are devastated by the loss of Mr. Bennett. He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought to the end,” said Dr. Bartley Griffith, who performed the surgery at the Baltimore hospital, in a statement.
Other transplant experts praised the Maryland team’s landmark study and said Bennett’s death shouldn’t slow down the process of figuring out how to use animal organs to save lives.
“This is a first step in uncharted territory,” said Dr. Robert Montgomery of NYU Langone Health, a transplant surgeon who received his own heart transplant. “A large amount of information” will contribute to next steps as teams at several transplant centers plan the first clinical trials.
Montgomery added: “It’s an incredible feat that he was kept alive for two months and able to enjoy his family.”
The need for another source of organs is great. More than 41,000 transplants were performed in the US last year, a record – including about 3,800 heart transplants. But more than 106,000 people remain on the nation’s waiting list, thousands die every year before their organs are harvested, and thousands more are never even added to the list, which is considered too long.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized the dramatic Maryland trial under the “compassionate use” rule for emergency situations. Bennett’s doctors said he had heart failure and an irregular heartbeat, plus a history of failing to follow medical instructions. He was deemed ineligible for a human heart transplant that would require the strict use of immunosuppressive drugs, or the remaining alternative, an implantable heart pump.
Organ rejection, infection, and other complications are risks for any transplant recipient. Experts hope the team in Maryland quickly publish in a medical journal how Bennett’s body responds to the pig’s heart.
From Bennett’s experience, “we gained invaluable insights knowing that genetically engineered pig hearts can function well in humans while the immune system is fully suppressed,” said Dr. Mohiuddin, director of animal-to-human science at the University of Maryland, said the transplant program.
A follow-up question is what evidence, from the experience of Bennett and some recent experiment With gene-edited pig organs, it might be possible to convince the FDA to authorize a clinical trial — possibly with an organ like a kidney that doesn’t cause immediate death if it fails.
Twice last fall, Montgomery’s team at NYU got permission from the families of the deceased to temporarily attach a gene-edited pig kidney to blood vessels outside the body and observe them. operate before the end of life support. And surgeons at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have gone a step further, transplanting a gene-edited pair of pig kidneys into a brain-dead man in a step-by-step rehearsal for an operation that They hope to try it in living patients possibly later. five.
Pigs have long been used in human medicine, including pig skin grafts and pig heart valve transplants. But a whole-organ transplant is much more complicated than using highly processed tissue. The gene-edited pigs used in these experiments were provided by Revivicor, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics, one of several biotech companies working to develop organs. of pigs suitable for potential human transplantation.