Pig-heart transplant may mean ‘hearts on demand’, says operation’s surgeon

The US surgeon who transplanted a pig heart to a man with terminal heart disease says the historic surgery could see “hearts on demand” for patients in the future.

Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, Distinguished Professor of Transplant Surgery at the University of Maryland, said he viewed the case as “a miracle” in terms of its broader medical implications.

David Bennett, 57, was out of the question for a human transplant, a decision made by doctors when the patient is judged to be in very poor health.

He is reported to have thought medics were kidding when the surgery was originally proposed.

Dr. Griffith told PA News Agency that he had been on the trial for five years and that it was “a real privilege” to be involved.

“If we can be successful with this experiment, there will be many organs and we will find that we can include patients who are currently excluded from a human heart transplant,” he said.

“We’ll be able to expand wellness to a much wider group of patients, and they can have the heart if needed.

“You don’t have to wait three years on a waiting list.

“It’s unbelievable, the patient is so good for only four days outside today, the heart function looks normal, it’s normal.”

Dr. Griffith said Mr. Bennett was “very willing to die” but wanted to undergo the surgery to help others in the future, adding that there had been “full ethics committee involvement”.

Regarding Mr. Bennett’s condition, he said, “He’s still recovering, he was very sick so it’s still thumbs up stuff, we don’t have a deep discussion.

“He was very ready to die, he didn’t want to, but he felt that he was ready to undergo this experiment even if he failed to help others.

The professor added, “It is a wonderful team based on trust and reliance on each other’s knowledge.

“The University Hospital has just joined the cause.

“It got a lot of attention, of course, but there are really dedicated people everywhere and it’s a real privilege to be part of it.

“I’ve lived my entire life doing transplants of one type or another, so it’s not uncommon to find myself in a life or death situation, but this one was truly amazing in terms of the wider implications.

“I mean, this man has a pig’s heart in his chest. Let that work on you a little. “

The operation at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore last Friday took seven hours.

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

There were just over 3,800 heart transplants in the U.S. last year, a record number, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the country’s transplant system.

But NHS officials say there is “still a way to go” before pig organs are routinely used in transplants.

A spokesman for NHS Blood and Transplant commented on the operation: “We are always interested in new research that could enable more patients in the future to benefit from a transplant.

“The transplant operations performed today are very successful; There are still not enough donor organs to help all those in need.

“Recently, through years of research, we have made some important advances, and this latest development makes animal-human transplantation a potentially safe and ‘achievable’ future treatment option.

“However, there is still a long way to go before such transplants become part of everyday life.

“We congratulate the team that carried out this operation successfully, and our hearts go out to the patient and her family for the next few days.”

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