Pioneering pig to human heart transplant heralded as a breakthrough


A 57-year-old patient with terminal heart disease received a successful transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart, in a first-of-its kind procedure conducted by University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) faculty at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC, Baltimore, USA).

This organ transplant demonstrated for the first time that a genetically-modified animal heart can function like a human heart without immediate rejection by the body, physicians behind the procedure said.

The patient, David Bennettis being carefully monitored over the next days and weeks to determine whether the transplant provides lifesaving benefits. He had been deemed ineligible for a conventional heart transplant at UMMC as well as at several other transplant centres that reviewed his medical records.

“This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis. There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients,” said Bartley P Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig heart into the patient. Griffith is the Thomas E and Alice Marie Hales Distinguished Professor in Transplant Surgery at UMSOM. “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.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorisation for the surgery on New Year’s Eve through its compassionate use provision.

Before consenting to receive the transplant, the patient was fully informed of the procedure’s risks, and that the procedure was experimental with unknown risks and benefits. He had been admitted to the hospital more than six weeks earlier with life-threatening arrythmia and was connected to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine to remain alive. In addition to not qualifying to be on the transplant list, he was also deemed ineligible for an artificial heart pump due to his arrhythmia.

Revivicor, a regenerative medicine company based in Blacksburg, VA, provided the genetically-modified pig to the xenotransplantation laboratory at UMSOM. On the morning of the transplant surgery, the surgical team, led by Griffith and Muhammad M Mohiuddin, professor of Surgery at UMSOM, removed the pig’s heart and placed it in the XVIVO Heart Box, perfusion device, a machine to preserve the organ until surgery.

The physician-scientists also used a new drug along with conventional anti-rejection drugs, which are designed to suppress the immune system and prevent the body from rejecting the foreign organ. The new drug used is an experimental compound made by Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals.


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