After doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine successfully transplanted a pig’s heart into Maryland resident David Bennett, researchers feel that it will take a few more years until it becomes an everyday reality.
The pig heart which Bennett received was a genetically modified one. The modification was necessary so that his body did not reject it following the transplantation surgery.
The pig heart was developed by US firm Revivicor. Researchers at Revivicor modified 10 genes in the pig. It deactivated four genes. Among those four genes, there was one gene which could trigger an aggressive immune response while there was another which would let the pig’s heart continue growing after it was transplanted, according to a report by The New Scientist.
The report also highlighted that the donor pig was inserted with six human genes into its genome to boost its chances of acceptability. Bennett, however, is taking immune-suppressing medications and is still wearing the heart-lung bypass machine supporting its function. But Bennett is coping well and the heart he received is doing most of the work and ‘looked normal’.
Though scientists have lauded the milestone achievement and compared it to the moon landing, they are optimistic that within a few years these kinds of surgeries could be everyday reality.
The transplantation that Bennett received is a milestone in the field of xenotransplantation. Xenotransplantation is the process in which humans receive animal body parts, like, heart, kidney and liver. If Bennett remains healthy and continues to survive normally, recipients who die every year in the US and across the world, can go for transplants as several donors die since it is hard to match donors and recipients and also die from lack of organ donors.
Bennett’s doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine are also monitoring him closely to check if virus genes naturally found in pig DNA cross into his body or not. Though the chances of this are decreased as pig pancreas cells have been transplanted into diabetes patients earlier. “This is a great step forward – you can compare it with the first landing on the moon,” a researcher at the Free Berlin University told the New Scientist.