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History made: pig's heart successfully transplanted into a man

It creates the pulse, it creates the pressure, it is his heart - Dr Bartley Griffith

Xenotransplant, Drawing. (Photo By BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

History was made on Friday January 7, when an American man received a heart from a genetically modified pig.

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Doctors at the University of Maryland successfully transplanted a genetically engineered heart into David Bennett Sr, a 57-year-old man with life-threatening heart disease.

According to the surgeons Bennett was doing well on Monday with vitals indicating that a heart from a genetically modified animal can function in the human body without immediate rejection.

“It creates the pulse, it creates the pressure, it is his heart,” said Dr Bartley Griffith, the director of the cardiac transplant program at the medical center, who performed the operation.

“It’s working and it looks normal. We are thrilled, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring us. This has never been done before.”

“It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice,” Bennett said a day before the surgery, according to a statement provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Animal-to-human transplants, or xenotransplants, have the potential to shorten organ transplant waiting lists. But xenotransplantation technology is far from receiving global approval for use in human trials.

According to the doctors, success of xenotransplantation could depend on whether scientists find enough patients to participate in dangerous transplant trials, and that raises important ethical questions about consent.

Pig hearts are the most similar to human hearts, and pig valves have been used for years in human valve surgery.

“Rushing into animal-to-human transplants without this information would not be advisable,” Karen Maschke, a research scholar at the Hastings Center who is helping develop ethical guidelines for such transplants, told The Associated Press.

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