Transplant Milestone: Man Receives First-Ever Pig-to-Human Heart

Offering hope for the thousands in need of organs, a man has survived three days and counting after receiving a transplant from a gene-edited pig heart, the very first animal transplant surgery of its kind in medical history.

Successful transplant of pig-to-human heart

A milestone medical procedure has proved successful with the first-ever pig-to-human heart transplant by surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The procedure marked the first time in history a gene-edited pig has been used as an organ for a human, USA Today reported.

The patient is Dave Bennett, a 57-year-old man suffering from heart disease and needing a transplant to save his life.

Bennett was the first to risk undergoing the experimental surgery. The procedure took doctors nine hours to replace Bennett’s heart with one from a 1-year-old, gene-edited pig that weighed 240 pounds and was specifically bred for organ donation.

The BBC reported that US medical regulators granted a special dispensation for the doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center to carry out the procedure. Permission was granted because Mr. Bennett had terminal heart disease and otherwise would have died.

“This is nothing short of a miracle,” Bennett’s son David said, two days after his father’s life-extending surgery. “That’s what my dad needed, and that’s what I feel like he got.”

Following the surgery, Bennett is breathing on his own without a ventilator. However, he remains on an ECMO machine that performs roughly half the pumping blood throughout his body. Doctors say they plan to wean him off the machine slowly.

Why did doctors choose a pig?

Scientists have been working for decades at figuring out how animal organs could be used to save human lives. The science of such transplants is called xenotransplantation; a term used not only for the implantation or infusion of organs from a nonhuman animal source but also for tissues, bodily fluid, and cells, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Pigs have similar organs to humans. Because of this, they are a prime candidate for animal-to-human organ transplant research.

Sign of hope for scores waiting for life-saving organ transplants

More than 100,000 people currently are on transplant waiting lists for a heart, kidney, or lung. Roughly 6000 people die while waiting for a transplant, which generally requires the death of another person to provide them with organ donation. While waiting, those on transplant waitlists often endure painful side effects and excruciating symptoms.