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Surgeons successfully transplanted genetically engineered pig heart into human patient

In a desperate effort to save the life of a 57-year-old man, doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have achieved a medical first. Through last Friday, surgeons successfully transplanted a pig’s heart into a patient as part of an experimental procedure.

In doing so, they showed that a genetically modified animal organ could survive and function in the human body without immediate rejection. Three days after the operation, David Bennett, the person who underwent the operation, is alive and “doing well”, according to the hospital.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared the procedure on compassionate grounds. Bennett was not eligible for a traditional heart transplant and had no other options. “It was either to die or to do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice, ”he said in a statement before the doctors operated on him.

Scientists have tried to save humans with animal organs for decades. One of the most notable attempts was in 1984 when doctors transplanted a baboon heart into , an infant born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The congenital disorder left her body unable to circulate blood properly. Baby Fae, as she was best known, survived 21 days before her body finally rejected the transplanted organ.

According to The New York TimesWhat makes this latest procedure different is that doctors used a heart that had been genetically modified to remove four genes that code for a molecule that causes the body to reject the orphan organ. They also inserted six human genes to make the immune system more tolerable to foreign tissue. Whether the experience represents a breakthrough will depend on what happens next. Bennett’s body could still reject the pig’s heart. At the moment, however, he’s alive and well, and doctors are understandably excited about what that could mean for patients.

“If this works, there will be an inexhaustible supply of these organs for patients who are in pain,” said Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, scientific director of the xenotransplantation program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said The Associated Press. It would be a radical departure from the status quo. According to , more than 100,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list and 17 people die every day while waiting for an organ transplant.

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