Patient who received breakthrough pig heart transplant dies

The first person to have their failing heart replaced with that of a genetically modified pig in a groundbreaking operation died Tuesday...


The first person to have their failing heart replaced with that of a genetically modified pig in a groundbreaking operation died Tuesday afternoon at the University of Maryland Medical Center, two months after the transplant.

David Bennett Sr., who lived in Maryland, was 57. He suffered from a serious heart condition and had agreed to receive the experimental pig’s heart after being rejected from several waiting lists to receive a human heart.

It was unclear whether his body had rejected the foreign organ. “No obvious cause was identified at the time of his death,” a hospital spokeswoman said.

Hospital officials said they could not comment further on the cause of death because his doctors had not yet carried out a thorough examination. They plan to publish the results in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Dr Bartley Griffith, the surgeon who performed the transplant, said hospital staff were “devastated” by the loss of Mr Bennett.

“He turned out to be a brave and noble patient who fought until the end,” Dr Griffith said. “Mr. Bennett has become known to millions around the world for his courage and unwavering will to live.

Heart transplantation was one of many pioneering procedures in recent months in which organs from genetically modified pigs were used to replace organs in humans. The process, called xenotransplantation, offers new hope to tens of thousands of patients suffering from diseased kidneys, hearts and other organs, as there is an acute shortage of donated organs.

Mr. Bennett’s transplant was initially deemed successful. It is still considered a significant step forward, as the pig’s heart was not immediately rejected and continued to function for over a month, passing a critical milestone for transplant patients.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit that coordinates the nation’s organ procurement efforts, some 41,354 Americans received organ transplants last year, more than half of which were kidneys.

Credit…David Bennett, via Associated Press

But there is a severe shortage of organs, and a dozen or more people on waiting lists die every day. About 3,800 Americans received replacement human donor hearts last year, more than ever before, but demand remains high.

Scientists have tried to produce pigs whose organs would not be rejected by the human body, a research effort that has accelerated over the past decade thanks to new gene editing and cloning technologies.

New York surgeons announced in October that they had successfully attached a cultured kidney from a genetically modified pig to a brain-dead human patient, finding that the organ was functioning normally and producing blood. urine for 54 hours.

In January, surgeons at the University of Alabama at Birmingham reported that they had for the first time successfully transplanted kidneys from a genetically modified pig into the abdomen of a dead 57-year-old man. cerebral. The kidneys were functioning and producing urine for three days.

UAB surgeons said they hope to start a small clinical trial with living human patients by the end of the year.

Shortly after Mr. Bennett’s heart surgery in January, the Washington Post said he had a criminal record stemming from an assault 34 years ago, in which he repeatedly stabbed a young man in a fit of jealousy, leaving him paralyzed.

The victim, Edward Shumaker, spent two decades in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down, and suffered numerous medical complications, including a stroke that left him cognitively before he died in 2007 in age 40, according to his sister, Leslie Shumaker Downey, of Frederick, Md.

Mr Bennett’s son, David Bennett Jr., who was a child at the time of the stabbings, said he did not want to discuss his father’s past and stressed that his father was contributing to medical science by undergoing the experimental transplant and hoped to “potentially save the lives of patients in the future”.

The heart donated to Mr. Bennett came from a genetically modified pig supplied by Revivicor, a regenerative medicine company based in Blacksburg, Virginia.

The pig carried 10 genetic modifications. Four genes were knocked out or inactivated, including one that codes for a molecule that causes an aggressive human rejection response.

Another gene was also inactivated to prevent the pig’s heart from continuing to grow after implantation. Additionally, six human genes were inserted into the donor pig’s genome – modifications designed to make the pig’s organs more tolerable to the human immune system.

On New Year’s Eve, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency clearance for the experimental surgery, which was performed a week later.

The transplanted heart functioned well initially and there were no signs of rejection for several weeks. Mr Bennett spent time with his family, did physical therapy and watched the Super Bowl, hospital officials said.

But he was not released and several days ago his condition began to deteriorate, hospital officials said.

His son released a statement thanking the hospital and staff for their exhaustive efforts on his father’s behalf.

“We hope this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end,” Mr. Bennett said. “We also hope that what has been learned from his surgery will benefit future patients and hopefully one day end the organ shortage that costs so many lives every year.”

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