Heart transplant

“Still a long way to go before pig heart transplantation becomes a daily reality”

There is “still a long way to go” before organs from pigs are routinely used in transplants, NHS officials said.

Doctors in the United States made history last week when they transplanted a pig’s heart into a human patient with end-stage heart disease.

The pig has been genetically modified so that its organs can survive in a human body.

Health officials in the UK have been tracking the landmark operation that may one day see more patients receiving transplants.

Commenting on the operation, a spokesperson for the NHS Blood and Transplant said: ‘We are always interested in new research that may allow more patients to benefit from transplants in the future. While the transplant operations carried out today are very successful; there are still not enough donor organs to help all those in need.

“Recently, thanks to the culmination of years of research, we have seen significant advances, and this latest development makes the possibility of transplantation between animals and humans a potentially safe and ‘attainable’ future treatment option. However, there is still a long way to go before such transplants become a daily reality.

“We congratulate the team who carried out this operation and our hearts are with the patient and his family in the days to come.

“As researchers and clinicians continue to do their best to improve the chances of transplant patients, we still need everyone to make their organ donation decision and let their family know what they want. ‘it happens if organ donation becomes a possibility. “

Surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore last Friday lasted seven hours.

Four days later, patient David Bennett would be fine and breathing on his own without a ventilator.

The 57-year-old was not eligible to be put on the transplant list and reportedly thought the doctors were joking when the operation was initially offered.

Doctors said the transplant shows that a heart from a genetically modified animal can function in the human body without immediate rejection.

Mr. Bennett will be closely watched over the coming days and weeks.

“It was either die or do this transplant,” Bennett said.

“I want to live. I know it’s a hit in the dark, but it’s my last choice.

Dr Bartley Griffith with patient David Bennett (University of Maryland Medical Center / PA)

Many attempts at such transplants – or xenotransplants – have failed, in large part because patients’ bodies quickly rejected the animal organ.

This time, scientists in the United States used the heart of a pig that had undergone genetic modification to remove a sugar in its cells that is believed to be responsible for hyper-rapid organ rejection.

Surgeon Bartley P Griffith, who performed the transplant, said: “This was revolutionary surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis.

“There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients.

“We are proceeding with caution, but we are also optimistic that this world’s first surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future. “

Around 6,000 people are waiting for transplants in the UK, including around 200 children, according to November NHSBT figures.