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Contaminated by animal viruses: this is why the first transplanted pig heart died

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Contaminated by animal viruses: this is why the first transplanted pig heart died

About two months after the death of David Bennett, the first man to have a genetically modified pig heart transplanted, the cause of death was discovered. The heart that had been transplanted was contaminated with an animal virus, which, according to transplant doctors, may have contributed to the death.

First human transplant of the heart of a genetically modified pig. The expert: “Still early to understand if it will work”

by Federico Mereta

11 January 2022

The Bennett transplant, or rather the xenograft (between different species), who died two months after the experimental intervention conducted by Bartley Griffith of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, had been hailed by world science as a promising path to salvation for all those patients with heart disease so serious that they were even excluded – as in the case of the American patient – from the transplant lists. An exclusion which also weighs on the scarcity of available organs, which are therefore reserved for those who have a better chance of survival. But if the organs can also be taken from genetically modified pigs to make them compatible with the human organism, the situation could be different.

In Bennett’s case, in fact, there had been no rejection one month after the transplant – a period of time defined as critical – and the patient seemed to be recovering when, just about ten days later, the worsening that led to him began to death. “With no apparent cause,” the hospital specified.

First patient with a pig’s heart died

09 March 2022


Now the cause has been found: a porcine cytomegalovirus, a preventable infection, which had harmful effects on the intervention. “We are beginning to understand the reasons for the death – explained Griffith – and I believe that the virus is or could be responsible”. An unforgivable mistake, given that the pigs destined to provide organs for transplants must obviously be virus-free: the biotechnology company that raised and genetically modified the pig, Revivicor, did not comment on the news or issue a statement on the virus.

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