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Man Receives a Heart Transplant from a Pig

Updated: May 3, 2022

by Dusan Borovic

“It’s been a long road to get to this point, it’s very exciting [that] we are at a point where a group was ready to try this,” says Megan Sykes, a surgeon and immunologist at Columbia University.

David Bennet, 57, is the first person to receive a successful heart transplant from a pig. The procedure is called xenotransplantation, and medical professionals are intrigued at this milestone.

Amid an organ donor shortage, as well as Bennet’s ineligibility to be a recipient of one due to his past health negligence, researchers obtained permission from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to follow through with the cross-species transplant amid the aforementioned limitations and concerns.

In order to make the pig heart safe and functional, scientists removed three pig genes that would’ve damaged the man’s immune system and inserted six human genes for coagulation control, inflammation, and blood vessel damage. Lastly, the heart was modified to suppress a response to growth hormones, ensuring that organs from the 400kg (881 lbs) animal remained fit for the human body.

Certain biotechnology companies are taking steps to bridge the genetic gap between the species. Firms such as eGenesis in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are genetically modifying pigs in order to not pass on retroviruses within swine genomes. In Oceania, NZeno in Auckland, New Zealand, are in the process of breeding miniature pigs with human-sized kidneys.

The monumental procedure, being a first, has its wary concerns. The physiology of both species involved and how their organs will interact must continuously be researched and monitored.

Being a breakthrough procedure comes at a cost, of course. No exact sum has been disclosed, though it can be concluded that the procedure is expensive for all involved. As more research and development continues through time, the costs will likely lessen.

One thing is certain: this was a milestone in the medical world. Through xenotransplantation, there can be more opportunities for developing countries with healthcare struggles and an organ donor shortage to recuperate. Questions of ethics arise in some countries, though others support the efficient use of organs which would otherwise be disregarded. This breakthrough could open many other doors in the medical world, and the event should be noted no matter what opinion a person may hold.


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