There was hope for two months – now the world’s first patient with a transplanted pig heart has died. Nevertheless, his doctors are optimistic about the future. You want to keep going.
Baltimore – After the death of the world’s first patient with a transplanted pig heart, the responsible doctors want to undertake further such transplantation attempts.
“We gained invaluable insight and learned that a genetically engineered pig heart can function well in the human body if the immune system is adequately suppressed,” said Baltimore University Hospital surgeon Muhammad Mohiuddin, according to a statement Wednesday. “We remain optimistic and plan to continue our work with additional clinical trials.”
Patient had “unique and historic role”
Hopefully, what is learned will help “future transplant surgeons improve outcomes and potentially provide life-saving support to future patients,” said his colleague Bartley Griffith. Mohiuddin posthumously thanked the patient for his “unique and historic role” in advancing xenotransplantation.
David Bennett, who was the first patient in the world to have a pig heart implanted as a replacement organ in early January, died on Tuesday at the age of 57, the University Hospital in Baltimore announced on Wednesday. His condition started deteriorating a few days ago. Eventually he got palliative care. In his last hours he was still able to communicate with his family.
No definite cause of death identified
What exactly Bennett finally died of was not initially disclosed. “At the time of his death, no clear cause of death had been identified,” a spokeswoman for the university hospital told the New York Times. The doctors in charge would conduct a thorough examination and publish the results in a scientific journal.
“We are devastated by the loss of David Bennett,” said surgeon Griffith. “He proved to be a courageous, honorable patient who fought to the end.” Bennett became known around the world for “his courage and his unwavering will to live”. Bennett’s son, David Bennett Jr., thanked the doctors. “We’re grateful for every innovative moment, every crazy dream, and every sleepless night that was a part of this historic effort.” Bennett is survived by another adult child, five grandchildren and two sisters.
Animal organ exemption
In October 2021 he came to the University Hospital in Baltimore as a seriously ill patient. Because the man, who is suffering from a life-threatening heart disease, was classified as unsuitable for a donor heart, the US health authority FDA granted an exemption for the attempt to save his life with the animal organ.
At the beginning of January, the man was then implanted with the genetically modified pig organ in an operation lasting several hours. This was considered a milestone in the field of organ transplantation. The patient was then connected to a heart-lung machine for a few days.
The condition of the man was initially relatively stable, the clinic said. The heart “worked well”, there were no signs of rejection. Bennett was “better than expected” and said he was “remarkably awake.” The man was able to spend time with his family and did physiotherapy. Among other things, he followed the football spectacle Super Bowl and often talked about wanting to go home to his dog Lucky.
Pigs suitable for xenotransplantation
So-called xenotransplantation – i.e. the transfer of animal organs to humans – has been researched since the 1980s. Pigs are particularly suitable as donors because their metabolism is similar to that of humans. According to scientists, the survival record for a baboon with a pig heart in Germany is 195 days. The basis for similar operations on people as in the USA has also been created in Germany – but when it could be so far is still unclear. Advances in the field could bring hope to tens of thousands of people waiting for donor organs. dpa
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