Pig-to-Human Heart Transplant

A medical first, a pig heart was transplanted into a dying man’s chest.

Beatrice Shen, Staff Writer

Two weeks ago, 57 year old David Bennett had a heart transplant, a procedure that has been perfected by medical professionals over the past half-century. However, Bennett’s cardiac transplant was unlike any other previously performed. His donor was not a human, but a pig. 

Xenotransplantation, the transplant process of a non-human organ body, has failed in the past, as patients’ bodies would quickly reject the animal organ. The longest a human ever lived after a xenotransplantation was in 1984 when a dying infant survived 21 days with a baboon heart. 

This time, however, Bennett had a newfound hope: the pig heart that was used for his surgery had been genetically modified beforehand, removing a sugar in the cells of the heart that causes rapid organ rejection. And, after all, it had boiled down to pig heart, or death. 

This transplant was extremely experimental, and there is no guarantee of the long term outcome. While it is still too early to gain a clear understanding of the surgery’s success, nearly two weeks after the surgery, Bennett is still alive. 

“I had not heard or read of the recent surgery. However, we do discuss transplants and xenotransplantation later in the second semester of our Medical Interventions class. Once you emailed me about David Bennett’s story, I read several articles about his case, and I certainly am impressed with the procedure, but not surprised,” Mrs. Erin Morse said, “Xenotransplantations have occurred for hundreds of years, albeit not to this level. For example, in the 1800s, a patient received a new cornea from a pig. Scientists today can genetically modify organisms and their structures, which has caused the potential of xenotransplantations to skyrocket. About 15 years ago, my uncle received a pig’s heart valve during his bypass surgery. I hope that David Bennett’s body continues to accept his new heart. That is the hardest part with xenotransplantations – will the body accept the new organ? Like other transplant patients, David takes immunosuppressive drugs to prevent rejection of his new heart, but there are no guarantees. I think, even though David was left with no other treatment options, it is brave of him to try this new procedure. He and his doctors and scientists are making significant contributions to science and other patients like David, no matter what happens.”

If this procedure turns out a success, this could be a major breakthrough in medical history: there would be an infinite number of transplant organs for those in need of them, solving the shortage of human transplant organs, and ultimately saving millions of lives.