In the US, doctors transplant a pig heart to a terminally ill patient. The body seemed to accept the organ. Now the patient is dead.
Update from Wednesday, March 9th, 2022: Two months after the world’s first successful pig heart transplant, the patient died in the USA. In the past month, his state of health was still stable (see update from February 9th, 2022) and gave cause for joy. The condition of 57-year-old David Bennett has deteriorated over the past few days, said the Maryland University Hospital in the city of Baltimore. He finally died on Tuesday (March 7th, 2022).
“After it became clear that he would not recover, he received palliative care,” the clinic said. “He was able to communicate with his family in the last hours of his life.” The heart of a genetically modified pig was implanted in the seriously ill Bennett in January. The first transplantation of this kind was celebrated internationally as a medical sensation and raised hopes for patients waiting for donor hearts.
After groundbreaking surgery: man lives with a transplanted pig heart
Update from Wednesday, February 9th, 2022, 4:07 p.m.: After successfully receiving a pig heart transplant in January, there is news about 57-year-old David Bennett in the United States with heart disease USA*: According to information from the University of Maryland in Baltimore on Sunday morning (02/06/2022) German time, he is still fine a month later. There is currently no evidence that Bennett’s body is rejecting the pig’s heart, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The 57-year-old is awake and responsive. Bennett also asked the nursing team when he could go home.
However, it will still take some time until then: the American is under observation in the clinic all day. If his body no longer accepts the pig’s heart, that would be the greatest danger to Bennett’s life, explains Joachim Denner, a transplant expert from Freie Universität Berlin. “The immune system needs a certain amount of time before it builds up an immune response. At the moment, the antibodies and immune cells that would be able to reject the organ are only being formed,” says Denner. Either way, the expert calls Bennett’s survival time a “huge success for xenotransplantation” – the transfer of cells and organs within different species.
Pig heart transplantation in the USA: When will such operations be available in Germany?
The basis for operations similar to the pig heart transplant in the USA also exists in Germany, explains Denner. It is unclear when there could be such a thing for the first time. Cardiac surgeon and xenotransplantation expert Bruno Reichart from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich (LUM) also warns Deutschlandfunk against excessive expectations. Because the operation in the USA took place under special conditions.
Above all, Reichart mentions the fact that a US company provided the pig heart, which was genetically adapted to humans, for the operation – including sponsorship worth millions. In addition, the donor pig was cloned in the USA, which is a complex process. Therefore, “not everyone can now say that I want to have a pig’s heart now,” says Reichart.
Groundbreaking operation: Doctors in the USA transplant a patient’s pig heart
First report from Tuesday, January 11th, 2022, 3:12 p.m.: Washington – In the United States, a team of doctors says they have successfully implanted the heart of a genetically modified pig in a patient for the first time. Three days after the transplant, the 57-year-old patient is doing well, the University of Maryland Medical School said Monday (January 10, 2022). “This organ transplant has shown for the first time that the heart of a genetically modified animal can function like a human heart without immediate rejection by the body.”
“This was a groundbreaking operation that brings us one step closer to to solve the organ shortage crisis*,” explained Bartley Griffiith, the surgeon who inserted the hog ore. “We want to proceed cautiously. But we are also optimistic that this world-first surgery will give patients an important new option in the future.”
Patient: “I had the choice of dying or doing this transplant”
According to the medical team, the patient suffered from end-stage heart disease. The University of Maryland said pig heart transplantation was the “only” treatment option. The man was not approved for a conventional organ transplant.
“I had a choice to die or to have this transplant,” patient David Bennett said ahead of Friday’s surgery, according to a university statement. I want to live. “I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.” The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had granted emergency use authorization for the procedure. Bennett, who has been bedridden on a heart-lung machine for the past few months, added, “I look forward to getting out of bed after my recovery.”
USA: Genetically modified pig provides organs for transplantation
The donor pig that gave the heart had been genetically modified to eliminate a gene that produces a specific sugar. This sugar would have triggered a strong immune reaction in the patient, which would have led to the rejection of the organ. A gene that would have led to excessive growth of pig heart tissue was also “switched off”. To prevent rejection of the heart by Bennett’s body, a total of four pig genes were eliminated and six human genes were inserted into the pig’s genome.
The biotech company Revivicor, based in the US state of Virginia, is responsible for the gene modification. The same company had previously supplied the pig used in a groundbreaking kidney transplant on a brain-dead patient in New York in October.
110,000 people in the US are waiting for a donor organ
However, while this previous procedure was only an experiment to test the concept and the kidney was connected to the patient’s bloodstream outside the body, the new procedure is intended to save more lives in the future. Before the implantation, the medical professionals had preserved the animal organ in a preservation machine. During the procedure, they also used a novel experimental drug to suppress the immune system.
Around 110,000 people were currently on a donor organ in the USA alone. According to official figures, every year more than 6,000 people die before a transplant can be carried out.
Shortage of donor organs: Research gives great hope to xenotransplantation
Mainly because of the lack of human donor organs* Researchers have high hopes for so-called xenotransplantation – the transplanting of animal organs. Pig heart valves and pig skin in burn victims are already being transplanted.
Because of their size, rapid growth and good breeding characteristics, pigs are considered ideal donor animals. In addition, they are more socially accepted as donor animals since they are already being slaughtered for food purposes. (Jan Trieselmann/dpa, Lukas Zigo/afp) *fr.de is an offer from IPPEN.MEDIA.
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