Doctors from the University of Maryland School of Medicine made history by successfully completing the world’s first pig-to-human heart transplant.
Dave Bennett, 57, who suffered from terminal heart disease, is breathing on his own following the nine-hour surgery, but doctors are still using an EMCO machine to help pump blood through his body. The machine is currently doing half of the work his heart would typically do, and doctors plan to gradually reduce the device’s power as his new heart builds up strength.
“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 Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig heart into the patient. “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.”
Doctors have been working for decades to figure out how to transplant animal organs into humans. To ensure the human body wouldn’t reject the heart, doctors genetically engineered the 240-pound pig specifically for the surgery. Pigs have similar organs to humans, making them ideal subjects for xenotransplantation.
The success of the surgery offers a sign of hope for many of the 110,000 people in the United States who are currently waiting for a compatible organ donor. Over 6,000 patients die every year while waiting for an organ transplant, according to data from the Health Resources and Services Administration.
“This is truly a historic, monumental step forward. While we have long been at the forefront of research driving progress toward the promise of xenotransplantation as a viable solution to the organ crisis, many believed this breakthrough would be well into the future,” said Dr. Bert W. O’Malley, President, and CEO, University of Maryland Medical Center. “I couldn’t be more proud to say the future is now. Our skilled team of UMMC and UMSOM physician-scientists will continue to advance and adapt medical discovery for patient care that could offer a lifeline for more patients in dire need.”