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Who is David Bennett? Man receives heart transplant from genetically modified pig in a historic first

David Bennett underwent a historic heart transplant surgery and received the organ from a pig (Image via University of Maryland Medical Center)
David Bennett underwent a historic heart transplant surgery and received the organ from a pig (Image via University of Maryland Medical Center)

David Bennett, a 57-year-old man from Maryland, recently underwent a historic heart transplant surgery and received the organ from a genetically modified pig. It is the first-ever successful transplant of a pig’s heart into a human body.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the eight-hour surgery took place in Baltimore on Friday, January 7, 2022. The patient was reportedly doing well on Monday, nearly three days after the transplant.

Dr. Bartley Griffith, director of the cardiac transplant program at Maryland Medical Center, also issued an official statement regarding the historic surgery:

“It creates the pulse, it creates the pressure, it is his heart. It’s working and it looks normal. We are thrilled, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring us. This has never been done before.”
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Doctors also shared that the experimental transplant was carried out because David Bennett was ineligible for a human transplant due to poor health conditions.

The donor pig used in the procedure was also genetically modified to remove genes that would cause its heart to be rejected by the human body.


Everything to know about David Bennett

David Bennett with his children, David Bennett Jr. and Nicole (Image via University of Maryland Medical Center)
David Bennett with his children, David Bennett Jr. and Nicole (Image via University of Maryland Medical Center)

David Bennett is a 57-year-old man from Maryland who recently created history by becoming the first recipient of a pig heart during an experimental heart transplant surgery.

He was previously suffering from a life-threatening terminal cardiac condition that made him bedridden for six months and only allowed him to breathe with the help of a machine.

The procedure at the University of Maryland Medicine represents a major milestone for animal to human transplantationDoctors transplanted a pig heart into #DavidBennett in a last-ditch effort to save his life & confirmed that he is recovering & being carefully monitored@dhume https://t.co/0RcJcZ9Bs6

Mr. Bennett agreed to be part of the experimental surgery as he was declared ineligible for a human heart transplant, stopped responding to other treatments, and had no other chance of survival. Prior to his surgery, he told officials it was his last choice and he was looking forward to his recovery:

“It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice. I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”

Dr. Griffith also recalled David Bennett’s positive response when professionals first proposed to him the idea of the surgery:

“I said, ‘We can’t give you a human heart. You don’t qualify. But maybe we can use one from an animal, a pig. It’s never been done before, but we think we can do it.’ I wasn’t sure he was understanding me. Then he said, ‘Well, will I oink?’”

Mr. Bennett first shared the plan with his son, David Bennett Jr., and the latter reportedly refused to believe the idea at first:

“At first I didn’t believe him. He’d been in the hospital a month or more, and I knew delirium could set in. I thought, no way, shape or form is that happening. But I realized, ‘Man, he is telling the truth and not going crazy. And he could be the first ever.’”

Following the procedure, David Bennett Jr. called the surgery miraculous:

“This is nothing short of a miracle. That’s what my dad needed and that’s what I feel like he got.”
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David Bennett is reportedly being closely monitored after the surgery, but the crucial 48 hours have passed without any major concern. He was connected to a heart-lung bypass machine but the animal's heart had already started functioning and was helping him breathe.

Although Mr. Bennett’s future remains unclear due to the procedure being experimental in nature, his family and doctors are hopeful for a recurring positive response.


How did the historic heart transplant surgery take place?

The donor pig used in Mr. David Bennett's surgery was genetically modified and edited (Image via University of Maryland Medical Center)
The donor pig used in Mr. David Bennett's surgery was genetically modified and edited (Image via University of Maryland Medical Center)

Xenotransplantation, or the process of grafting or transplanting organs or tissues between members of separate species, has long been part of medical history. In 1983, an infant named Baby Fae received a baboon heart for transplant.

However, she passed away 20 days after the surgery. More recently, surgeons in New York successfully transplanted a pig kidney into a human body. Although the recipient was brain dead at the time, the surgery was deemed successful.

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Ahead of the latest heart transplant, the one-year-old 17-stone donor pig was genetically edited and bred for the purpose of the surgery. The genetic alteration was provided by a regenerative medicine company called Revivicor.

The pig reportedly underwent 10 genetic modifications. During the procedure, four genes were inactivated, including a gene that causes a rejection response from the human body. The growth gene was also inactivated to prevent the pig's heart from growing after the implant.

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Researchers also inserted six human genes into the genome of the pig to make the organ more suitable for the human immune system. A new drug made by Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals and partly developed by Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin was used to “prevent rejection” and “suppress the immune system.”

The Food and Drug Administration finally provided an “emergency authorization” and gave the team of surgeons a nod to conduct the surgery on David Bennett towards the end of 2021.

Edited by Siddharth Satish
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