by Prisha Satish ‘24
Published Mar. 3rd, 2022
On January 7th, this year, The first Pig-Human heart transplant took place, signifying a medical breakthrough advancing the study of xenoplantation: the process of transferring animal organs into humans.
The operation took place at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and lasted 8 hours. The patient, David Bennett, is reportedly doing well.
Dr. Bartley Griffith, one of the doctors who performed the surgery, summed up the function of the pig-human heart transplant, saying that the organ “creates the pulse, it creates the pressure, it is his heart”. He first considered and brought up this experimental treatment to Bennett in mid-December, recalling it to be a “memorable” and “pretty strange” conversation.
This heart transplant took place just months after surgeons in New York successfully attached a kidney of a genetically engineered pig to a brain-dead person. Before this, most research had been done on non-human primates.
Last year around 41,354 Americans received a transplanted organ, yet there is a continued shortage of organs, with around a dozen people on the organ transplant waiting lists dying each day.
Research took a huge leap forward in this past decade, due to new methods of gene editing and advances in cloning technology. Scientists have also been working extremely hard to develop a pig whose organs would not be rejected by the human body. Researchers perform procedures similar to the pig-human heart transplant with the goal of reaching a new era in medicine where organs are no longer in short supply for Americans on the waiting lists.
However, there are still many hurdles to overcome before other xenoplantation procedures can be broadly applied, especially due to the fact that the rejection of an organ occurs even if there is a good match between a human donor and donee.