In a groundbreaking world first, a 57-year-old man in the U.S. has become the first person in the world to receive a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig.
The revolutionary procedure’s apparent success offers hope to hundreds of thousands of people who are struggling with failing vital organs amid scarce supplies of human organs.
The patient, David Bennett of Maryland, is in good shape days after the experimental seven-hour operation took place in Baltimore on Friday, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
The surgical procedure is the result of years of fervent efforts by researchers to develop pigs whose organs would be compatible with the human body, and was made possible by recent advances in gene editing and cloning technology. The heart transplant was preceded months ago by a successful kidney transplant in New York which also used an organ harvested from a genetically engineered pig.
“This is a watershed event,” said David Klassen, chief medical officer at the United Network for Organ Sharing, reports New York Times. “Doors are starting to open that will lead, I believe, to major changes in how we treat organ failure.”
The University of Maryland doctors received a special dispensation from regulators to carry out the procedure due to the fact that Bennett’s death was certain in the absence of a transplant.
Surgeon Bartley Griffith, who took part in the transplant, expressed pride in taking part in bringing the world “one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis,” reports BBC. Roughly 17 people die every day in the U.S. while awaiting transplants, which are in extremely short supply.
“People die all the time on the waiting list, waiting for organs. If we could use genetically engineered pig organs they’d never have to wait, they could basically get an organ as they needed it,” said Christine Lau, Department of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“Plus, we wouldn’t have to fly all over the country at night-time to recover organs to put them into recipients.”
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