David Bennett, the 57-year-old man who received a pig heart transplant in a world first, has died. Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center implanted a genetically modified pig heart in Bennett, who was ineligible for a human heart transplant, in January. Without the modifications, Bennett’s body would have immediately rejected and attacked the heart. With the modifications, he lived two more months, leaving doctors with a breakthrough but still plenty to work on.
“Mr. Bennett was a brave man. Without his contribution, we couldn’t have done this procedure. He was brave enough to donate his body to science and to accept this pig heart, which many would not. We are grateful to his family who also supported during this long survival of two months, “ Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin said in a statement. “This is the first time a pig organ has been transplanted in a human and there are lot of unknowns that we can discover after carefully evaluating the data. A lot of new information will come out that will help the field move forward at a faster pace.”
The FDA granted a compassionate use exception to allow Bennett, who was on life support, to receive the pig heart.
“We are grateful for every innovative moment, every crazy dream, every sleepless night that went into this historic effort,” Bennett’s son, David Bennett Jr., said in a statement released by the hospital. “We hope this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end.”
Doctors have successfully used skin grafts and heart valves from pigs, but transplanting an entire organ and having the human body accept it is a much more complex task.
“We have gained invaluable insights learning that the genetically modified pig heart can function well within the human body while the immune system is adequately suppressed,” Mohiuddin said. “We remain optimistic and plan on continuing our work in future clinical trials.”