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Man Who Received First-Ever Genetically-Modified Pig Heart Transplant Dies

Last updated on March 10, 2022

The man who received a transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart in a first-of-its-kind surgery passed away Tuesday, only 2 months after he received the new heart.

David Bennett, a 57-year-old man diagnosed with terminal heart disease, received the genetically-modified heart in a transplant operation on January 7. The University of Maryland Medical Center released a statement in the wake of Bennett’s death, saying that his condition had begun to deteriorate several days ago, and that he was given palliative care. The university also said he was able to communicate with family in his final hours.

“We are devastated by the loss of Mr. Bennett. He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought all the way to the end. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family,” said Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig heart into Bennett. “Mr. Bennett became known by millions of people around the world for his courage and steadfast will to live.”

Bennett originally went to the University of Maryland Medical Center in October 2021. At the time, he was bedridden and had to be placed on a machine that bypassed his heart and lungs in order to stay alive. The university said that he was fully informed of the experimental surgery, with all the accompanying risks and potential benefits, the Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency authorization for the surgery on December 31, 2021.

The surgery took place at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore and took eight hours to complete. The Daily Wire reported:

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

Griffith added, “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.”…

Bennett chose to go forward with the procedure because he would not have survived without getting a new heart, had already gone through with other treatments, and was not healthy enough to meet the qualifications for a heart from a human donor, per members of his family and physicians, according to the Times. 

The outlet reported that the heart which was put into Bennett’s body “came from a genetically altered pig provided by Revivicor, a regenerative medicine company based in Blacksburg, Va.”

The animal “had 10 genetic modifications. Four genes were knocked out, or inactivated, including one that encodes a molecule that causes an aggressive human rejection response,” the outlet noted, adding that a growth gene was also deactivated to not allow the pig’s heart to keep growing after implantation. 

“In addition, six human genes were inserted into the genome of the donor pig — modifications designed to make the porcine organs more tolerable to the human immune system,” the Times noted. 

After recovering from the surgery, Bennett’s new heart “performed very well for several weeks without any signs of rejection,” the university said. Bennett was able to spend time with his family and participate in physical therapy to help him regain his strength. Bennett watched the Super Bowl in February in the company of his physical therapist, and often discussed going home to his family and dog, Lucky, the university added.

“As with any first-in-the-world transplant surgery, this one led to valuable insights that will hopefully inform transplant surgeons to improve outcomes and potentially provide lifesaving benefits to future patients,” Griffith said.

Bennett is survived by two sisters, his two children, and five grandchildren, as The Hill reported.

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