Man receives ‘die or do’ surgery, as doctors in Maryland use pig heart during transplant | US News

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A terminally ill man has been given the chance of life after his own diseased heart was replaced by a genetically-modified pig’s heart.

In a medical first, doctors in Maryland transplanted the animal’s organ into 57-year-old David Bennett and said on Monday that he is doing well three days after the experimental surgery.

It is too early to know if the operation will work but marks a step in the decades-long search by scientists to use animal organs for life-saving transplants.

Photo courtesy: David Bennett Jr.  Descriptions of people.The Bennett family group pix is from 2019..Left to right in the back row: David Bennett Jr, David Bennett Sr, Nicole (Bennett) McCray, Sawyer Bennett, Kristi Bennett..Left to right in the front row: Preston Bennett, Gillian Bennett.The carnival photo is from 2014. Left to right: David Bennett Jr, David Bennett Sr. and Nicole (Bennett) McCray.
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Mr Bennett (left centre) had no other options left, according to his son David Bennett Jr (left). Pic AP

Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Centre said the transplant showed that a genetically-modified heart from a pig can be used in the human body without immediately being rejected.

‘Die or do’ surgery

In a statement on the day before the surgery Mr Bennett said: “It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.”

His son David Bennett Jr said: “He realises the magnitude of what was done, and he really realises the importance of it.

“He could not live, or he could last a day, or he could last a couple of days. I mean, we’re in the unknown at this point.”

In this photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, members of the surgical team show the pig heart for transplant into patient David Bennett in Baltimore on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. On Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 the hospital said that he's doing well three days after the highly experimental surgery. (Mark Teske/University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP)
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In previous experiments, the organ has been rejected by the human body. Pic AP

With a shortage of human organs for transplant, animal alternatives have long been the subject of intense research.

Last year, there were just over 3,800 heart transplants in the United States, a record number, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

Dr Muhammad Mohiuddin, a scientific director for the university’s animal-to-human transplant programme, said: “If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering.”

A ‘watershed’ event

The surgery, scientifically known as xenotransplantation, has previously not worked because of patients’ bodies rejecting the animal organ.

This photo provided by the family shows from left, David Bennett Jr., David Bennett Sr., and Nicole (Bennett) McCray at a carnival in 2014. In a medical first, doctors transplanted a pig heart into Bennett Sr., in a last-ditch effort to save his life and the hospital said Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 that he's doing well three days after the highly experimental surgery. (Courtesy David Bennett Jr. via AP)
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Mr Bennett (centre) received the pig’s heart, which was gene-edited. Pic AP

The most notable attempt was in 1984, when Baby Fae, a dying infant, lived 21 days with a baboon heart.

The surgeons in Maryland used a heart from a pig that had undergone gene editing to remove a chemical in its cells that’s responsible for the organ rejection.

The UNOS’s chief medical officer, Dr David Klassen, described the transplant as a “watershed event”, but warned that it is only a first, tentative step into exploring the animal-to-human organ transplants.

In this photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Bartley Griffith takes a selfie photo with patient David Bennett in Baltimore in January 2022. In a medical first, doctors transplanted a pig heart into Bennett in a last-ditch effort to save his life and the hospital said Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 that he's doing well three days after the highly experimental surgery. (Dr. Bartley Griffith/University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP)
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According to the hospital, Mr Bennett is doing well three days after his study. Pic AP

Xenotransplantation experiments are overseen by the Food and Drug Administration, which allowed the surgery under “compassionate use” emergency authorisation, which is made available when a patient has no other options.

In September 2021, scientists in New York suggested that gene-edited pigs might offer promise for animal-to-human transplants after they temporarily attached a pig’s kidney to a dead human body and watched it work.

According to Dr Robert Montgomery, who led the New York experiment, the heart transplant is “a truly remarkable breakthrough”.



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