The xenotransplant patient who died received a heart infected with a pig virus

The version used in Maryland comes from a pig with 10 gene mutations developed by Revicor, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics.

Following promising tests of such pig organs in Baboon, three U.S. transplant teams began their first human studies in late 2021. Surgeons from New York University and the University of Alabama donated the kidneys of each attached pig to brain-dead people, but not the University of Maryland. One step further when Griffith stitched a pig’s heart in Bennett’s chest in early January.

Transmitting the swine virus to humans is a concern કેટલાક some fear that xenotransplantation could trigger an epidemic if the virus adapts to the patient’s body and then spreads to doctors and nurses. Concerns about the need for lifelong care for patients can be so serious.

However, the specific type of virus found in Bennett’s donor heart is not thought to be capable of infecting human cells, says Jay Fishman, a transplant infection specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Fishman believes its further spread “poses no real threat to humans.”

Instead, the problem is that pigs are associated with cytomegalovirus reactions that can harm the organ and the patient – with catastrophic consequences. For example, two years ago, German researchers reported that a pig’s heart transplanted into a baboon could survive only two weeks if the virus was present, while infection-free organs could live more than half a year.

The researchers said they found a “surprisingly high” level of the virus in the heart of a pig removed from a baboon. They believe the virus is not only because the baboon’s immune system has been suppressed by drugs, but also because the pig’s immune system is no longer there to control the virus. They warned at the time that “the same thing could happen to humans.”

Dr.  Bartley Griffith and David Bennett January 2022
Pig Heart recipient David Bennett Sr. With his transplant doctor, Bartley Griffith of the University of Maryland.

University of Maryland School of Medicine

Joachim Denner of the Institute of Virology at the Free University of Berlin, who led the study, says the solution to the problem is a more accurate test. The U.S. team appears to have tested the pig snot for the virus, but it is often hidden deep in the tissues.

“It’s a secret virus and it’s hard to find,” says Dener. “But if you test the animal better, it won’t happen. Viruses can be detected and easily removed from pig populations, but unfortunately they did not use a good test and could not detect the virus, and this was the reason. The donor pig became infected and the virus was transmitted through transplant. “

Denner says he still thinks the experiment was a “great success.” In 1967, for example, the first human-to-human heart transplant lasted only 18 days, and two years later, in Germany, it lasted only 27 hours.

Daner says the virus alone cannot be blamed for Bennett’s death. “This patient was very, very, very sick. Don’t forget that, “he says.” Maybe the virus contributed, but it wasn’t the only reason. “

Cause of death,

The cause of Bennett’s death is significant, as researchers may need to return to the drawing board if his heart fails as a result of immune rejection. Instead, it is now expected that companies such as United Therapeutics and Eganesis, or the scholars who work with them, will begin clinical trials of their pig organs in a year or two.

Bennett was offered a pig’s heart after Griffith applied to the US Food and Drug Administration for special permission to try the animal’s organ in a one-time transplant. He was considered a good candidate for the courageous endeavor because he was close to death from heart failure and was unfit for a rare human heart for transplant due to his history of disregarding medical advice.

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