American surgeons have successfully implanted a heart from a genetically modified pig in a 57-year-old man, a medical first that could one day help solve the chronic shortage of organ donations.
The historic procedure took place on Friday, the University of Maryland Medical School said.
The patient, David Bennett, had been deemed ineligible for human transplant – a decision that is often taken when the recipient has very poor underlying health, reports AFP.
“It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice,” the Maryland resident said a day before the surgery.
Bennett has spent the last few months bedridden on a heart-lung bypass machine.
The US Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorisation for the surgery on New Year’s Eve, as a last ditch effort for a patient who was unsuitable for conventional transplant.
“This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis,” said Bartley Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig heart.
About 110 000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 6000 patients die each year before getting one, according to official figures.
Earlier research focused on harvesting organs from primates – for example, a baboon heart was transplanted into a newborn known as “Baby Fae” in 1984, but she survived only 20 days.
Today, pig heart valves are widely used in humans, and pig skin is grafted on 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.