Genetically Modified Pig Heart Transplanted Into Human Patient

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Genetically Modified Pig Heart Transplanted Into Human Patient
57-year-old David Bennett was ineligible for a human heart transplant, and this was the last available option to keep him alive.

In a medical first, doctors transplanted a pig heart into a patient in a last-ditch effort to save his life. A Maryland hospital said Monday he's doing well three days after the highly experimental surgery.

While it's too soon to know if the operation really will work, it marks a step in the decades-long quest to one day use animal organs for life-saving transplants. Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center say the transplant showed that a heart from a genetically modified animal can function in the human body without immediate rejection.

The patient, David Bennett, a 57-year-old Maryland handyman, knew there was no guarantee the experiment would work. But he was dying, ineligible for a human heart transplant and had no other option, his son told The Associated Press.

On Monday, Bennett was breathing on his own while still connected to a heart-lung machine to help his new heart. The next few weeks will be critical as Bennett recovers from the surgery and doctors carefully monitor how his heart is faring.

There's a huge shortage of human organs donated for transplant, driving scientists to try to figure out how to use animal organs instead. Last year, there were just over 3,800 heart transplants in the U.S., a record number, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the nation's transplant system.

The Maryland surgeons used a heart from a pig that had undergone gene editing to remove a sugar in its cells that's responsible for hyper-fast organ rejection. Several biotech companies are developing pig organs for human transplant; the one used for Friday's operation came from Revivicor, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics.

The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees such experiments, allowed the surgery under what's called a "compassionate use" emergency authorization, available when a patient with a life-threatening condition has no other options.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.