August 14, 2022

David Bennett survived for two months following the surgery

David Bennett, the first person in the world to get a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig, has died.

The 57-year-old, who had terminal heart disease, survived for two months following the surgery in the US, but passed away on Tuesday after his condition began to deteriorate several days ago.

Bennett died at the University of Maryland medical center. Doctors have not provided an exact cause of death.

“We are devastated by the loss of Mr Bennett. He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought all the way to the end. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family,” said Bartley P. Griffith, MD, who led the operation.

In a statement from the university, Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, MD, Professor of Surgery and Scientific Director of the Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program at the university, added: “We are grateful to Mr. Bennett for his unique and historic role in helping to contribute to a vast array of knowledge to the field of xenotransplantation.”

Bennett’s son, David Bennett Jr, praised the hospital for offering the last-ditch experiment, saying the family hoped it would help further efforts to end the organ shortage.

“We are grateful for every innovative moment, every crazy dream, every sleepless night that went into this historic effort,” David Bennett Jr said in a statement released by the university.

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“We hope this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end.”

Following surgery, the transplanted heart performed “very well for several weeks without any signs of rejection”, the university statement reads.

“The patient was able to spend time with his family and participate in physical therapy to help regain strength. He watched the Super Bowl with his physical therapist and spoke often about wanting to get home to his dog Lucky.”

Dr Mohiuddin added: “We have gained invaluable insights learning that the genetically modified pig heart can function well within the human body while the immune system is adequately suppressed.”

“We remain optimistic and plan on continuing our work in future clinical trials.” Added Dr. Griffith: “As with any first-in-the-world transplant surgery, this one led to valuable insights that will hopefully inform transplant surgeons to improve outcomes and potentially provide lifesaving benefits to future patients.”

Read the university’s full statement here. 

Bennett had been deemed ineligible for a human heart transplant due to his poor health.

However, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center were granted a special dispensation by the US medical regulator to carry out the experimental procedure on the basis that Bennett would have otherwise died.

The day before the surgery, Bennett said: “It was either die or do this transplant.

“I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.”

It was the first time a genetically modified animal heart had been transplanted into a human body without being immediately rejected.

The pig heart had been supplied by a regenerative medicine company called Revivicor, which had used a combination of years of breeding and genetic editing to produce a suitable donor.

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The 240-pound male pig had been genetically modified to not have three genes in its DNA that would have led to the heart being rejected by Bennett. It also had six human genes added that would cause the heart to be accepted, the Independent reported at the time.

If more operations of this kind can happen in the future, then there are hopes that this could help tackle the organ shortage that the US is experiencing.

More than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for transplants. The crisis means that 17 people a year in the US die waiting for transplant.

In a release from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, surgeon Bartley Griffith said: “This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis. There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients.”

Before this, the most advanced operation of this kind took place in October last year when surgeons in New York successfully transplant a pig’s kidney into a person. However, the recipient was already brain dead and had no hope of recovery.

Bennett had been bedridden for six weeks in the leadup to the surgery and had been attached to a machine that was keeping him alive after he was diagnosed with terminal heart disease.

Griffith told the New York Times that the pig heart is “working and it looks normal,” adding that they were “thrilled, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

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