Time will tell if University of Maryland Medical Center experiment works
Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. So with a dearth of donor organs, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center transplanted a pig heart into the chest of 57-year-old patient David Bennett. After a few days, the experimental procedure appears to be working.
“It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice,” Bennett said a day before the surgery, according to a statement from the medical center.
More than 3,800 heart transplants occurred in the U.S. last year, and there simply aren’t enough donors to keep up, so doctors have been experimenting with using genetically modified animal organs. Bennett was not eligible for a human donor heart, so he had nothing to lose by agreeing to try the pig heart.
“If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering,” said Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, scientific director of the university’s animal-to-human transplant program.
Past attempts at xenotransplantation have failed because the human body rejects the animal organ. In this case, doctors gene-edited out a sugar in the pig heart cells that would cause a fast rejection.
While it’s too soon to tell if the transplanted heart will keep Bennett alive for long, “I think you can characterize it as a watershed event,” Dr. David Klassen, UNOS’ chief medical officer, told the Associated Press.
For his part, Bennett is embracing being part of history.
“He realizes the magnitude of what was done, and he really realizes the importance of it,” David Bennett Jr. said of his father. “He could not live, or he could last a day, or he could last a couple of days. I mean, we’re in the unknown at this point.”