Scientists have successfully transplanted a genetically modified pig heart into humans, marking the second big step forward in the organ transplant process this year.
“One of the most incredible things was that a pig’s heart was beating in a human chest,” said Dr. Robert Montgomery, director of New York University’s Langone Organ Transplant Institute, where the transplants were performed, at a news conference Tuesday.
One transplant was done in mid-June and the other was completed on July 6th.
But there’s a catch: Transplant patients are already brain-dead, and their hearts are still beating on ventilators for pig organs. It will likely be years before human organ transplant procedures become a common and reliable option for people on long waiting lists for hearts, kidneys and other vital organs.
“There will be an iterative process of learning and changing tactics,” said Montgomery, who himself had a heart transplant.
However, the doctor hopes that pig organs will one day become “a renewable and sustainable source of organs so no one has to die on the waiting list.”
And more human trials could become a reality in the next few years.
The first such heart transplant was performed on a survivor at the University of Maryland in January. The transplant was performed on a 57-year-old man with a life-threatening heart condition.
And two months later, Bennett’s new pig’s heart gave out. Later, porcine virus DNA was found in the heart, but there was no sign of active infection, the surgeon who performed the procedure told the New York Times.
“We don’t really know what caused this heart failure or why he died,” Montgomery said. He argues that this is why it is important to continue research on deceased donors before moving on to trials of living organ transplants.
Dr. Chris Colbert, an ER doctor in Chicago who was not involved in the study, told Insider upon hearing the news: “This is a huge, huge step in the right direction. This summer, two pig hearts were transplanted at New York University: “They are able to work for at least 72 hours in the human body because they were created using 10 genetic modifications. Four genetic modifications were designed for pigs to prevent transplant rejection. and abnormal growth, and six were human genes designed to make human and pig parts more compatible.”
“This is really a new frontier in transplant medicine,” Preity Perlamarla, a heart transplant specialist at Mount Sinai in New York who was not involved in the NYU research, told Insider.
And a routine pig-to-human heart transplant could become “very feasible” within a decade.
Before pig heart transplants become commonplace, doctors need to better understand how to make modified pig organs more compatible with living and moving humans so that recipients don’t reject them, Prilamarly said. He added that researchers and surgeons also need to make sure “we don’t pass on some unexpected infection that a pig might have, which then spreads to humans.”
But she also said she wouldn’t be surprised if a pig-to-human heart transplant becomes a routine in her career.
Source: Science Alert.