David Bennett, the first man to have a pig heart transplanted two months ago, has died at the age of 57. The heart came from a genetically modified pig to facilitate organ compatibility and reduce the immune rejection response of the patient after the transplant. He was an American man suffering from severe heart failure.
The surgery, performed at the University of Maryland Medical Center (United States) was authorized, despite not being sufficiently experienced, given the patient’s terminal condition.
As we already mentioned in a recent report, these xenotransplantations, which is what they are called, have been investigated for decades. The main problem with this line of research is the difficulty in controlling the immune rejection of the recipient, especially when the transplanted organ belongs to another animal species.
In addition to the risks related to the impossibility of controlling the proliferation of human cells in animal organisms, as occurs in the production of hybrids, the most recent xenotransplantation experiments present no ethical difficulty other than the safety of the procedure, its viability at the longest term and the secondary effects that could derive from the use of genetically modified organs and tissues from animal species, with the possible risk of zoonosis caused by the transmission of animal viruses to the human receptor.
There are many questions and only prudent experimentation, with a proper evaluation of the risks and consequences of these processes, will open the way to a true advance in the field of transplant medicine.