Surgeons hope genetic modification will help patients’ bodies receive organs, pig organs could help ease shortage of donor organs
A man with terminal heart disease is doing well three days after his first heart surgery in a genetically modified pig, his doctors reported Monday.
The procedure, performed by a team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was one of the first to demonstrate the feasibility of a pig-human heart transplant, a field made possible by new gene-editing tools.
If proven successful, scientists hope pig organs could help ease the shortage of donor organs.
“This is a groundbreaking procedure that brings us one step closer to addressing the organ shortage crisis. There simply isn’t enough supply,” Dr Bartley Griffith, who surgically transplanted pig hearts into patients, said in a statement. human hearts to meet the needs of a long list of potential recipients.
“We are proceeding cautiously, but we are also optimistic that this world-first procedure will provide an important new option for future patients,” added Griffith.
For David Bennett, 57, from Maryland, a heart transplant was his last option.
“Die or get a transplant. I want to live. I know it’s shooting in the dark, but it’s my last resort,” Bennett said the day before the surgery, according to a statement released by the university.
To advance the experimental procedure, the university received emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on New Year’s Eve through its Compassionate Use Program.
“The FDA used our data and data on experimental pigs to authorize a transplant in a patient with end-stage heart disease who had no other treatment options,” said Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, director of the university’s xenotransplantation program — which transplants animal organs into humans.
About 110,000 Americans are currently awaiting an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before receiving an organ transplant, according to organdonor.gov.
Bennett’s genetically modified pig heart was provided by Revivicor, a Virginia-based regenerative medicine company. On the morning of the surgery, the transplant team removed the pig’s heart and placed it in a special device to preserve its function until surgery.
Pigs have long been an attractive source of potential transplants because their organs are so similar to humans.
Other organs in pigs being studied for transplantation into humans include kidneys, livers and lungs.
Previous efforts in pig-to-human transplants have failed because of genetic differences that lead to organ rejection or viruses that pose a risk of infection.
Scientists solve this problem by editing out potentially harmful genes.
In Bennett’s heart, three genes previously implicated in organ rejection were “knocked out” in the donor pig, and six human genes implicated in immune acceptance were inserted into the pig genome.
The researchers also deleted a pig gene to prevent overgrowth of pig heart tissue.
This work was funded in part by a $15.7 million research grant to evaluate Revivicor in transgenic pig hearts in baboon studies.
In addition to the genetic changes in the pig’s heart, Bennett also received an experimental anti-rejection drug.