American man with transplanted genetically modified pig heart dies

Baby pink and black pig looks in camera, animal news
Baby pig, photo: Alexas Ph Fotos via Canva

The 57-year-old American man who made history as the first person to receive a genetically modified pig’s heart died at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), the hospital said on Wednesday.

Two months ago, David Bennett was implanted with a pig heart that had been genetically modified. Researchers removed four pig genes and added six human genes to the donor pig. The pig was killed so his heart could be given to Bennett.

Even though the surgery was seen as a breakthrough, animal welfare organizations heavily criticized the use of animals as organ donors. 

Vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) US, Kathy Guillermo, said in a statement that pigs “aren’t spare parts and should never be used as such just because humans are too self-centered to donate their bodies to patients desperate for organ transplants.” 

Bennett’s condition began deteriorating several days ago, the hospital said. He died on Tuesday. “Before consenting to receive the transplant, Mr Bennett was fully informed of the procedure’s risks, and that the procedure was experimental with unknown risks and benefits,” the hospital said.

The transplanted heart performed “very well for several weeks without any signs of rejection,” the hospital said. Researchers consider pigs a source of potential pig-to-human heart transplants, but attempts have failed because of genetic differences that cause organ rejection or viruses that pose an infection risk.

The United States and Germany are breeding pigs for pig-to-human heart transplants.

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