World first: man gets genetically-modified pig heart transplant

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World first: man gets genetically-modified pig heart transplant. image - University of Maryland School of Medicine
World first: man gets genetically-modified pig heart transplant. image - University of Maryland School of Medicine

A man in the US has become the first person in the world to get a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig.

57-year-old David Bennett is said to be recovering well after the experimental seven-hour procedure in Baltimore.

The transplant was considered the last hope of saving his life, however, it is not yet clear what his chances of survival are long-term.

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“It was either die or do this transplant,” Mr Bennett explained the day before the surgery.

“I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice,” he said.

The US medical regulator granted a special dispensation to doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center to carry out the transplant, on the basis that Mr Bennett would have died otherwise.


He was not deemed eligible for a human transplant due to poor health.

World first: man gets genetically-modified pig heart transplant
World first: man gets genetically-modified pig heart transplant.
image – University of Maryland School of Medicine

The pig used in the world-first had been genetically modified to knock out various genes that would have led to the organ being rejected by Mr Bennett’s body, the AFP news agency reports.

The transplant marks the culmination of years of research for the medical team involved and could change lives around the world.


Surgeon Bartley Griffith said the surgery would bring the world “one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis.” At the moment, 17 people die each day in the US waiting for a transplant and over 100,000 people are reportedly on the waiting list.

Using pig heart valves is already common and in October 2021, surgeons in New York announced that they had successfully transplanted a pig’s kidney into someone. Though this was the most advanced experiment in the field so far, the recipient was brain dead and had no hope of recovery.

The moment in medical history provides hope of a solution to the shortage of human donors, however, there is still a long way to go to determine whether transplanting animals organs is the future.

Although pig hearts are anatomically similar to humans, they are not identical, and the bigger issue is organ rejection. These pigs are bred to lack the genes that cause rejection. The animals are cloned with particular genes “knocked out” and reared until they reach an age where their organs are large enough to be used in transplants.

It is too early to tell how Me Bennett will recover from the transplant and his doctors were clear that the surgery was a gamble, however, even though the risks are huge, so are the potential gains.

“I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover,” Mr Bennett said last week.

Yesterday, January 10, Mr Bennett was reported to be breathing on his own while being carefully monitored, but exactly what will happen next is unclear.


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Laura is from a small seaside town in North Wales and has also lived in Liverpool and Manchester, where she studied English Literature and worked in social media and marketing. Laura moved to the city of Zaragoza last August to teach English, but after missing the coast she decided to move to beautiful Nerja to enjoy the sun and sea. Laura has a passion for animals, films, outdoor activities, writing and the environment.

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