As technology and medicine get more and more advanced, all eyes are now on the use of animal organs in humans, also known as xenotransplantation.
Last year, a kidney which was obtained from a genetically engineered pig was transplanted into a deceased donor. Doctors observed the organ and found that it continued to function as expected.
It was the first successful pig-to-human heart transplant ever performed, and could mark the beginning of a new era for xenotransplantation, as well as offer new hope for the severely ill who face an ever-present shortage of organs from human donors.
In a statement, the university said that it was performed to a 57-year-old patient with terminal heart disease who had received a genetically-modified pig’s heart as it was the only currently available option.
The patient was reported to be doing well three days later and the organ transplant demonstrated for the first time that a genetically-modified animal heart can function like a human heart without immediate rejection by the body.
“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,” said Mr. Bennett, the patient, a day before the surgery was conducted.
He had been hospitalised and bedridden for the past few months. “I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover,” he said.
Before consenting to receive the transplant the patient, was fully informed of the procedure’s risks, and that the procedure was experimental with unknown risks and benefits.
He had been admitted to the hospital more than six weeks earlier with life-threatening arrythmia and was connected to a heart-lung bypass machine, called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), to remain alive.
In addition to not qualifying to be on the transplant list, he was also deemed ineligible for an artificial heart pump due to his arrhythmia.
“This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis. There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients,” said Bartley P. Griffith, MD, who surgically transplanted the pig heart into the patient.
According to the report, about 110,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before getting one.
“We are proceeding cautiously, but we are also optimistic that this first-in-the-world surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future,” he added.