US surgeons have successfully implanted a heart from a genetically modified pig in a human patient, a first of its kind procedure, the University of Maryland Medical School said Monday.
The surgery took place Friday, and demonstrates for the first time that an animal heart can survive in a human without immediate rejection, the medical school said in a statement.
The 57-year-old Maryland resident is being carefully monitored to determine how the new organ performs.
Bennett, who has spent the last several months bedridden on a life support machine, added: “I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”
“This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis,” said Bartley Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig heart.
Bennett’s donor pig belonged to a herd that had undergone a genetic editing procedure to knock out a gene that produces a particular sugar, which would otherwise have triggered a strong immune response and led to organ rejection.
The donated organ was kept in a machine to preserve it ahead of surgery, and the team also used a new drug along with conventional anti-rejection drugs to suppress the immune system and prevent it rejecting the organ.
About 110,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before getting one, according to official figures.
Early research focused on harvesting organs from primates — for example, a baboon heart was transplanted into a newborn known as “Baby Fae” in 1984, but she survived only 20 days.
Pigs make the ideal donors because of their size, their rapid growth and large litters, and the fact they are already raised as a food source.