This first-of-its-kind transplant highlighted that a modified animal heart can function as a human heart without immediate rejection by the body, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center said.

The patient, David Bennett, who was deemed ineligible for a conventional heart transplant at various transplant centres, said, “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.”

Calling it “a breakthrough surgery”, Bartley P Griffith, MD, who surgically transplanted the pig heart into the patient, said, it “brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis. There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients.”

While the actual results are yet to be seen, the medical fraternity is elated to see the first step towards their efforts in determining if animal organs can be used for life-saving transplants.

Applauding the achievement, Dr Charu Dutt Arora, consultant-home care, Covid expert and medical services, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Faridabad called it “a watershed moment”. “It is a turning point for medical science.”

Terming it “a great achievement”, Dr Subhendu Mohanty, director-cardiologist, Sharda Hospital, said, “If this works properly, it will be a boon for patients with end-stage heart disease. The kidney transplant program has got so successful because they procure donors easily. But, when it comes to heart donation, the same is not true as you can take heart only from patients who are brain-dead. That poses a major problem for those with severe heart failure or terminal heart disease.”

“Every new experiment or study shows a path for future possibility. As far as organ transplantation is concerned, it is a life-saving treatment option in the cases of serious heart ailments, and any additional option which adds to the availability of donors is only going to enrich this field,” said Dr Amar Singhal, senior consultant, cardiology, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, adding that he is looking forward to more studies and researches.

According to Dr Arora, however, it also highlights the dearth of human organs for donation. “It also reflects on the dire shortage of human organs for donation that an ailing 57-year-old had to take a shot in the dark and opt for the pig’s heart. If it works, genetic engineering has a long way to go as long as it is applied ethically and cautiously.”

“This also takes us a step closer to thinking that if we can transplant a pig’s heart, is it also possible to use other organs? If this comes through properly, and with further research we are able to harvest other organs too, then it will become so much easier to treat patients. Especially in India, where there are strict rules regarding donors because of which we aren’t as successful in treating such patients as compared to Western countries,” Dr Mohanty added.

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