A heart from a genetically modified pig has successfully been implanted in a human patient by US surgeons.
The University of Maryland Medical School said that it was a first of its kind procedure.
The medical school said in a statement that the surgery took place on Friday, and demonstrates for the first time that an animal heart can survive in a human without immediate rejection.
The patient, David Bennett, had been deemed ineligible for a human transplant. The 57-year-old Maryland resident is being carefully monitored to determine how the new organ performs.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency authorization for the surgery on New Year’s Eve, as a last-ditch effort for a patient who was unsuitable for a conventional transplant.
Bartley Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig heart said that it was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis. We are proceeding cautiously, but we are also optimistic that this first-in-the-world surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future.
According to official figures, about 110,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before getting one.
To meet demand, doctors have long been interested in so-called xenotransplantation, or cross-species organ donation, with experiments tracing back to the 17th century.
Early research focused on harvesting organs from primates — for example, a baboon heart was transplanted into a newborn known as “Baby Face” in 1984, but she survived only 20 days.
Today, pig heart valves are widely used in humans, and pigskin is grafted on human burn victims.
Pigs make the ideal donors because of their size, their rapid growth and large litters, and the fact they are already raised as a food source.