Science

University of Maryland doctors perform first successful transplant of pig heart into a human

A Maryland man became the first to successfully receive the transplant of a genetically modified pig’s heart on Friday in an operation which was necessary to save his life.

Surgeons and clinicians from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center performed the transplant surgery. 

The patient, 57-year-old David Bennett, had been diagnosed with a terminal heart disease and was deemed ineligible for a conventional heart transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center as well as other transplant centers around the country. He will be monitored by doctors in the hospital over the next several weeks or months to make sure his body does not reject his new organ. 

Currently, porcine heart transplants are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but the agency authorized the operation on December 31 under its “expanded access” provision. The provision is also known as “compassionate use,” which is implemented when alternative treatment or therapeutic options are not available.

Bennett said he accepted the risks that accompanied the experimental surgery. “It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live,” he noted in a statement prior to the operation. “I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.” 

Bennett’s surgery, if it continues to be successful, could be a medical breakthrough to help medical providers solve the organ shortage crisis that leaves thousands without the treatment they need.

“There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients,” said Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, the doctor who performed the transplant, in a statement on Monday. “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.” 

ARTICLE: ELIZABETH HERTZBERG

MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE

PHOTO CREDITS: BALTIMORE SUN

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