In medical first, surgeons transplant pig heart into man

Baltimore, Md.-based University of Maryland School of Medicine clinicians performed the first successful transplant of a genetically modified pig heart in a patient with end-stage heart disease, the university said Jan. 10.

David Bennett, 57, of Maryland is being carefully monitored over the next weeks to determine whether the transplant provides lifesaving benefits. 

"This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis," said Bartley P. Griffith, MD, who surgically transplanted the pig heart into the patient. "There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients. We are proceeding cautiously, but we are also optimistic that this first-in-the-world surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future."

Pig heart transplants aren’t approved by the FDA, but the medical team said the federal agency authorized the surgery in this case for “compassionate use” as no other options remained for Mr. Bennett. The procedure demonstrated for the first time that a genetically modified animal heart can function like a human heart without immediate rejection by the body. 

The American Heart Association said the breakthrough may help healthcare professionals solve the organ shortage crisis. About 20 percent of patients on heart transplant waiting lists die while waiting to receive a transplant or become too sick to be good candidates.

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