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Groundbreaking Pig Heart Transplant in a Human May Help Patients Awaiting Donor Hearts

The University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center announced today the first successful transplant of a genetically modified pig’s heart into a human. According to reports, the patient, a Maryland man, is doing well following the groundbreaking surgery on Friday, Jan. 7 to save his life.

Porcine (pig) heart transplants aren’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, the federal agency authorized the surgery in this case for “compassionate use” as no other options remained for the patient, according to the medical team.

This medical breakthrough may help health care professionals solve the organ shortage crisis that leaves thousands each year without life-saving heart transplants. About 20% of patients on the heart transplant waiting list die while waiting to receive a transplant or become too sick to be good candidates for the complex transplant procedure.

In 2019 (most recent data available), the United States recorded the highest number of heart transplants, with 3,552 transplantations performed. As of March 11, 2020, 3,661 people were on the waiting list for a heart transplant, and 52 people were on the waiting list for a heart and lung transplant, according to the American Heart Association’s 2021 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistical Update.

Animal organ transplants, or xenotransplants, are extremely rare and can have significant risks to patients as well as bioethical concerns. Pig hearts have been long been seen as possible for transplantation for the human heart due to many similarities, and pig heart valves are used for humans in many cases.

According to the American Heart Association, the most common reasons for a heart transplant are that one or both ventricles of the heart aren’t functioning properly so that severe heart failure is present. A heart transplant gives a patient the opportunity to have a normal heart with normal blood circulation. If the transplant goes well, heart function and blood flow will be closer to normal, and life-sustaining.

Source: American Heart Association