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Doctors transplant pig’s heart into human patient for the first time, make history

The new development could help ease the burden on the donor system, especially considering that nearly 10 patients die from not receiving an organ everyday.

Doctors transplant pig’s heart into human patient for the first time, make history
Image source: University of Maryland school of medicine

In a historic first, the heart of a pig has been successfully transplanted into a human body. The 'breakthrough surgery' opens up a new pathway for those waiting for a heart. There is simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the demand and this new development could ease the burden on the donor system. David Bennett, 57, was given emergency authorization to receive a genetically modified pig heart after he was deemed ineligible for a conventional heart transplant, reported NBC News. The University of Maryland said the man was doing well following the surgery. He was hospitalized for over six weeks with life-threatening arrhythmia and had been connected to a heart-lung bypass machine. The emergency authorization was given by The Food and Drug Administration on New Year’s Eve, according to the University of Maryland

Surgeon Bartley P Griffith with David Bennett earlier this month/University of Maryland school of medicine

Dr. Bartley Griffith, the operating physician, said the patient is being monitored to see how he fares with the new heart. "There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients," said Griffith in a statement. "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." David Bennett said he didn't have much of a chance without the surgery and decided to go for it. “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,” said Mr. Bennett, who had been bedridden for months. The 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. 


The successful transplant comes on the back of five years of perfecting the techniques to transplant pig hearts into nonhuman recipients by Dr. Griffith and Dr. Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Pig and cow tissues have been previously used successfully as valve replacements, according to Harvard University Medical School. Mechanical valves last for the rest of the person's life but valves made from pig and cow tissues tend to last 15 years and don't require the use of anti-clotting drugs.  


“This is the culmination of years of highly complicated research to hone this technique in animals with survival times that have reached beyond nine months. The FDA used our data and data on the experimental pig to authorize the transplant in an end-stage heart disease patient who had no other treatment options,” said Dr. Mohiuddin. “The successful procedure provided valuable information to help the medical community improve this potentially life-saving method in future patients.” According to, roughly  110,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before getting one. 


There is now more research into Xenotransplants, transplants from a nonhuman species to a human, as a result of increased demand for organ replacement. At least 10 patients die per day while waiting for a donated organ, according to FDA. "Recent evidence has suggested that transplantation of cells and tissues may be therapeutic for certain diseases such as neurodegenerative disorders and diabetes, where, again human materials are not usually available," stated the FDA website. Last year, scientists at New York University Langone Health temporarily attached a pig kidney to a deceased woman, reported NPR

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