Surgeons Successfully Transplant Pig’s Heart into Dying Man at Maryland Hospital
Surgeons at the Medical University of Maryland have successfully transplanted a pig’s heart into a dying man, marking the second time such an experimental procedure has been performed. The 58-year-old Navy veteran, Lawrence Faucette, faced almost certain death from heart failure but was unable to undergo a traditional heart transplant due to other health complications.
The transplant, which took place at the Faculty Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, has given Faucette a new lease on life. Just two days after the surgery, Faucette was already able to sit in a chair and even crack jokes, astonishing the medical team. While the next few weeks will be crucial for Faucette’s recovery, doctors are optimistic about his prompt response to the porcine organ.
Dr. Bartley Griffith, the surgeon who performed the transplant, expressed his amazement at the procedure, saying, “I keep shaking my head: how am I going to talk to someone who has a pig’s heart? We feel a lot of privilege but, you know, a lot of pressure.”
The same Maryland team previously conducted the world‘s first transplant of a genetically modified pig heart into another patient, David Bennett, who unfortunately survived for only two months. Faucette was aware of the first case but decided that a transplant was his best chance at survival. In a video recorded by the hospital before the operation, Faucette expressed his hope and the opportunity for a better quality of life.
The shortage of donated human organs for transplants is a pressing issue. In 2022, there were just over 4,100 heart transplants in the United States, a record number. Due to limited availability, these organs are only offered to patients with the highest chances of long-term survival. To address this shortage, scientists are now exploring the transplantation of organs from genetically modified pigs, whose organs are more similar to humans.
Previous attempts at animal-to-human transplants were hindered by the immediate rejection of foreign tissue by the patients’ immune systems. However, recent experiments involving pig kidneys and hearts in donated human bodies have shown promise, leading to the concept of xenotransplantation.
The University of Maryland’s landmark attempt to transplant a pig’s heart into Faucette required special permission from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This approval was granted due to the lack of alternative treatment options for Faucette and the preliminary knowledge gained from the previous transplant. Despite the risks involved, Faucette, a retired laboratory technician, understood the gravity of the procedure and willingly accepted it.
Notably, the Maryland researchers have now taken extra precautions to minimize potential complications. Last year’s transplant revealed the presence of a porcine virus in the heart, leading to further research and better testing for hidden viruses. Additionally, the medical team has gained insights into avoiding certain medications that may pose risks.
Faucette’s improved condition offers hope for the future of xenotransplantation. His new heart is already functioning well without the need for support machinery, according to the hospital. Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, a xenotransplantation expert on the Maryland team, described the experience of witnessing the pig heart in a human body as “an incredible feeling.” However, he cautioned against making predictions, stating that each day of Faucette’s recovery is a victory to celebrate.
The porcine heart used in the transplant was provided by Revivicor, a company based in Blacksburg, Virginia. It underwent ten genetic modifications to eliminate certain porcine genes and incorporate human genes, making it more acceptable to the human immune system.
While Faucette’s journey to recovery is far from over, his successful pig heart transplant offers new hope and potential for patients facing dire health conditions. The medical community eagerly awaits the further advancements in xenotransplantation, which could revolutionize the field of organ transplants and provide a lifeline for countless individuals in need.