US surgeons transplant genetically modified pig’s heart into second patient

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BALTIMORE – Surgeons in Baltimore have transplanted the heart of a genetically altered pig into a man with terminal heart disease who had no other hope for treatment, the University of Maryland Medical Centre announced on Friday.

It is the second such procedure performed by the surgeons.

The first patient, Mr David Bennett, 57, died on March 8, 2022, two months after his transplant, but the pig heart functioned well and there were no signs of acute organ rejection, a major risk in such procedures.

The second patient, Mr Lawrence Faucette, 58, a navy veteran and married father of two in Frederick, Maryland, underwent the transplant surgery on Wednesday and is “recovering well and communicating with his loved ones”, the medical centre said in a statement.

Mr Faucette, who had terminal heart disease and other complicated medical conditions, was so sick that he had been rejected from all transplant programmes that use human donor organs.

“At least now I have hope and I have a chance,” Mr Faucette said before the surgery. “I will fight tooth and nail for every breath I can take.”

The transplantation was performed by Dr Bartley Griffith, who operated on the first patient. Dr Muhammad Mohiuddin, from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, designed the protocol.

Mr Bennett died after multiple complications and traces of a virus that infects pigs were found in his new heart, raising concerns that so-called xenotransplants of organs from animals to people could introduce new viruses into the human population.

Hospital officials said they repeatedly tested the pig used in the transplant last week for both the virus, called porcine cytomegalovirus, and antibodies using a new assay that was not available at the time of Mr Bennett’s transplant.

Before undergoing the transplant, Mr Faucette said he recognised that it would be a miracle if he was able to leave the hospital and go home, and another miracle if he lived for months or a year longer.

“Realistically, this is in the early-stage learning process,” he said of the procedure.

In recent years, the science of xenotransplantation has taken huge strides with gene editing and cloning technologies designed to make animal organs less likely to be rejected by the human immune system.

Although the advances are still in nascent stages, they offer hope to the more than 100,000 Americans who are living with end-stage organ disease yet face an acute shortage of human donor organs.

Most of those waiting for an organ need a kidney. NYTIMES

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