Man Who Got Pig Heart Didn't Die From Rejection

Doctors say procedure should be considered a success
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 8, 2022 10:35 AM CDT
Doctors: Pig-to-Human Heart Transplant Counts as a Success
In this photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, David Bennett Jr., right, stands next to his father's hospital bed in Baltimore, Md., on Jan. 12, 2022, five days after doctors transplanted a pig heart into Bennett Sr.   (University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP)

Maryland man David Bennett lived for only two months after he received a pig's heart—but doctors say the first-of-its-kind procedure counts as a success. Doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine say they determined that 57-year-old David Bennett died from heart failure but his body never rejected the organ from a genetically edited animal, NBC reports. They concluded that the heart failure was caused by a "complex array of factors," per a university release. They found that there was a thickening and stiffening of the heart muscle, which may have been caused by a drug Bennett was given to prevent organ rejection.

Another factor, doctors say, could have been a pig virus that "hitched a ride" into Bennett with the heart and wasn't detected until 20 days after the transplant. "We are still trying to figure out what went wrong; we don’t have a single answer," said Dr. Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, director of the school's cardiac xenotransplantation program, per the Baltimore Sun. "But we don’t consider this a setback. We consider that he lived through the surgery the first win." Bennett was in end-stage heart failure and near death when the procedure was approved. He didn't qualify for a normal heart transplant.

"When he seemed to be recovering and doing well for two months, we really thought that was a huge success," said Mohiuddin. "If we could have identified the reason his heart gave out suddenly, he might have walked out of the hospital." He described the case as an "important learning experience" that will lead to improved techniques in future procedures. A Food and Drug Administration spokesperson tells the Sun that requests for similar transplants in the future will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The spokesperson said xenotransplantation—transplants from animals to humans—"represents an option" for dealing with a shortage of human organs. (More organ transplants stories.)

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