The patient received the heart of a pig that has undergone gene editing in January 2022
David Bennett Sr, the man whose failing heart was replaced with the heart of a genetically-modified pig, is dead. He died on Tuesday 8 March, nearly two months after receiving the heart in a ground-breaking surgery at the University of Maryland, USA, on January 7, 2022. He was 57.
Mr. Bennett had agreed to the transplant after failing to qualify to join the waiting list to receive a human heart. He said he choose surgery as his last choice at living.
“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” said Mr. Bennett, according to a statement released by the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
The pig whose heart was used for the transplant had undergone gene editing to delete enzymes that could trigger a rejection by the host.
While scientists are trying to find the cause, there is no indication yet that it was due to the rejection of the transplant.
A spokeswoman for the hospital told New York Times that “there was no obvious cause identified at the time of his death.”
Mr. Bennett’s transplant generated wide coverage when it was conducted in January. The promise of having animal organs successfully transplanted into human hosts – a process known as xenotransplantation – was expected to be a game-changer in a field faced with an acute shortage of human organs.
With the advent of gene editing and cloning techniques, scientists have scaled up research to produce pigs whose organs can be harvested for transplantation.
Mr. Bennett was not the first person to receive an organ from a genetically modified pig. Surgeons in New York announced in October 2021 that they had successfully transplanted the kidneys of a genetically modified pig into the abdomen of a 57-year-old man. The kidney performed normal functions for three days.
The surgery for the heart transplant was deemed a success after Mr. Bennett received the heart in January. According to the New York Times, the heart performed well after the surgery and there was no indication of organ rejection for the next several weeks.
He was not discharged, however. The hospital says his health started to deteriorate some days ago before he passed on Tuesday.
Despite the short-lived success of the first heart transplant, the breakthrough surgery opens a ray of hope into the lives of other patients like Mr. Bennett and their families.
“We hope this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end,” said his son, Bennett Jnr. “We also hope that what was learned from his surgery will benefit future patients and hopefully one day, end the organ shortage that costs so many lives each year.”