US surgeons have successfully transplanted a heart from a genetically modified pig into a human, the University of Maryland Medical School announced in a statement on Monday.
The historic procedure, which took place last Friday, represents a major milestone for animal to human transplantation.
The patient, 57-year-old David Bennett, had been deemed ineligible for human transplant — a decision that is often taken when the recipient has very poor underlying health.
He is now recovering and being carefully monitored to determine how the new organ performs.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency authorization for the surgery on New Year’s Eve, as a last-ditch effort for a patient who was unsuitable for a conventional transplant.
Breakthrough transplant surgery from animal to human
“This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis,” said Dr. Bartley Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig heart.
“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.”
Muhammad Mohiuddin, who co-founded the university’s cardiac xenotransplantation program, added that the surgery was the culmination of years or research, involving pig-to-baboon transplants, with survival times that exceeded nine months.
“The successful procedure provided valuable information to help the medical community improve this potentially life-saving method in future patients,” he said.
Pig had undergone genetic editing procedures
Bennett’s donor pig belonged to a herd that had undergone genetic editing procedures.
Three genes that would have led to the rejection of pig organs by humans were “knocked out,” as was a gene that would have led to excessive growth of pig heart tissue.
Six human genes responsible for human acceptance were inserted into the genome, for a total of 10 unique gene edits.
The editing was performed by Virginia-based biotech firm Revivicor, which also supplied the pig used in a breakthrough kidney transplant on brain-dead patients in New York in October.