NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Transplant surgeons at Yale New Haven Health are watching the groundbreaking surgery that took place recently at the University of Maryland. A pig heart was implanted in a 57-year-old man, a first for medical science.
“His level of illness probably exceeded our standards for what would be safe for human heart transplantation,” said the transplant surgeon, Dr. Bartley P. Griffith from the University of Maryland.
Doctors genetically modified the pig’s heart, customizing it for the patient, one-way modifying genes to prevent the man’s body from rejecting the organ.
“With the technology of the ten gene editing modifications that were made with CRISPR technology to help create this transgenic pig, they were able to successfully take a one-year-old pig’s heart and transplant it into a human who desperately needed a heart transplant and was at his last choice, life or death and accepted this heart,” Yale Transplant Chief Dr. David Mulligan said.
Unlike primates, pigs are more readily available for a human organ supply.
“These organs can actually be used as either a bridge to a human transplant or as a long-term transplant replacement so it basically enhances the supply of organs for transplant significantly,” Mulligan said.
That could help fulfill the desperate needs of just over 100,000 people on the organ donor waiting list, with 17 people dying every day in the U.S. waiting for an organ match.
The son of the pig heart recipient is relieved.
“He’s in a much better place and a much happier place right now following this transplant procedure. He is happy with where he’s at, happy with the potential to get out of the hospital,” David Bennet, Jr. said.
Experts at Yale are doing research on organ transplants that includes how to make donor organs better after they are removed and before they are donated. It’s through a process called organ perfusion.
“We’re doing a lot of research on how can we make these organs better so that organs that we previously couldn’t transplant can be used for life-saving transplants and expand that donor supply within our own species, just from organs that we couldn’t use before because they were too fatty or they were in too much shock,” Mulligan said.