US Surgeons Make History With Pig Heart Transplant Into Man

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Damir Mujezinovic

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, causing about one in four deaths across different racial and ethnic groups.

Many heart disease patients require complicated medical interventions -- including transplants -- but the shortage of human organs donated for transplant has been a major issue for years.

But what if doctors were able to transplant genetically-modified animal hearts into humans?

That would be a game changer, and it seems to have become reality.

Read more below.

Pig Heart Transplanted Into Human

University of Maryland School of Medicine | Twitter

Last week, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center successfully transplanted a genetically-modified pig heart into a patient to save his life, as reported by Time magazine.

The patient, 57-year-old David Bennett, said yes to the experimental transplant because he was dying and out of options.

"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," he said days before the surgery.

The surgery went well and Bennett is now recovering.


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Will It Work?

All prior attempts to transplant animal organs into human beings have failed, mostly because patients' bodies rejected the organ. However, the pig heart Maryland surgeons used underwent gene-editing, so there appears to be a chance this transplant succeeds.

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

UNOS Chief Medical Officer David Klassen, meanwhile, said that this transplant can be described as a "watershed event."

'Remarkable Breakthrough'

Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led similar medical experiments at NYU Langone Health, described the Maryland transplant as a "remarkable breakthrough."

"As a heart transplant recipient myself with a genetic heart disorder, I am thrilled by this news and the hope it gives to my family and other patients who will eventually be saved by this breakthrough," he said.

Bennett's son, David Bennett Jr., said his father "realizes the magnitude of what was done and he really realizes 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," he added.

Ethical Concerns

Shutterstock | 228230881

Though many in the healthcare community welcomed the news, some have expressed opposition to the idea of using animal organs to save human lives.

Animal rights activists in particular have been vocal, with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), issuing an alarming statement.

"Animal-to-human transplants are unethical, dangerous, and a tremendous waste of resources that could be used to fund research that might actually help humans," PETA said.

"Animals aren’t toolsheds to be raided but complex, intelligent beings. It would be better for them and healthier for humans to leave them alone and seek cures using modern science," the organization added.