Brain-Dead Patients Receive Pig Hearts in Successful Xenotransplants

pig heart transplant
Source: NYU Langone Health

A team of researchers at NYU Langone Health have successfully transplanted genetically modified pig hearts in two brain-dead patients.

Reports suggest that approximately 17 people die per day while waiting for an organ. While the demand for transplant organs has considerably increased over the years, the number of organ donors has not. As a result, the number of people on the waiting lists is increasing. Thus, to address this organ shortage, researchers have turned to xenotransplantation. This involves transplanting organs from animals to humans. Recently, doctors at NYU Langone Health conducted two successful xenotransplants using genetically modified pig hearts.

This is the first step in developing a deep understanding of the mechanical, molecular, and immunologic aspects of xenoheart transplantation and the feasibility of utilizing standard clinical practice and tools to do so.

Dr. Alex Reyentovich, medical director of heart transplantation and director of NYU Langone’s advanced heart failure program

The team performed the xenotransplants on June 16th and July 6th of this year. They used recently deceased donors, maintained on ventilator support, who had agreed to take part in the experimental surgery.

According to the press release, the pig hearts underwent 10 genetic modifications prior to the transplant. The researchers blocked four pig genes and added six human genes. These modifications help prevent excessive growth of pig heart tissue and aid organ acceptance by the body. The team further checked the hearts for animal viruses to increase the organ’s chance of survival.

Both the transplant surgeries stretched over several hours. Doctors and surgeons monitored the organs for three days. The hearts continued to function normally and did not show any signs of rejection. Moreover, the team did not detect any porcine cytomegaloviruses (pCMVs) in either case.

More sensitive screening methods have been introduced to detect low-level traces of pCMV in the donor pigs.

Robert Montgomery, director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute

David Bennett, a Story of Hope

Previously, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center conducted the first-ever successful xenotransplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human. The 57-year-old David Bennett had suffered from terminal heart disease. Although the patient recovered well, his health began to deteriorate two months after the procedure. He eventually passed away in March of this year.

Researchers found evidence of pCMV in the transplanted organ. However, it is unclear how the virus brought about his death.

Nevertheless, xenotransplantation provides a potential solution to the ongoing organ shortage.

Source: NYU Langone Health


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