The US surgeon, who transplanted a pig’s heart into a person with terminal heart disease, says the landmark operation could see “hearts on demand” for patients in the future.
Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, Distinguished Professor of Transplant Surgery at the University of Maryland, said he saw the case as “a stunner” in terms of its wide-ranging medical implications.
David Bennett, 57, was deemed ineligible for a human transplant, a decision taken by doctors when the patient is deemed to be in very poor health.
He is said to have thought the medics were joking when the operation was initially proposed.
Dr. Griffith told the PA news agency he had been working on the process for five years and it was a “real privilege” to be involved.
“If we can be successful with this experiment there will be plenty of organs and we will find that we will be able to include patients who are currently excluded from human heart transplants.”
“We will be able to expand wellness to a wider group of patients and they can have a heart on demand.
“They need not wait for three years on the waiting list.
“It’s unbelievable, the patient is doing so well today. Only four days out, heart function looks normal, it’s normal.”
Dr Griffith said Mr Bennett was “very willing to die” but wanted to undergo the operation so that he could help others in the future, adding that there was “extensive ethics committee involvement”.
Commenting on Mr Bennett’s condition, he said: “He’s still recovering, he’s very ill, so it’s still good, we don’t have any deep discussions.
“He was so prepared to die, he didn’t want to, but he realized that this was an experiment he was willing to do, even though he couldn’t make it to help others.
Professor said: “It’s a wonderful team based on interdependence and dependence on each other’s knowledge sets.
“The medical center of the university rallied just for the cause.
“Sure it has gotten a lot of attention, but there are really committed people around and it is a real privilege to be involved.
“I’ve spent my life doing one type of implant or the other, so it’s not unusual for me to be in a life-or-death situation, but it was a real stunner in terms of the wider impact.
“I mean, this guy has a pig’s heart in his chest. Let it sink in a bit”.
The surgery, which took place last Friday at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, took seven hours.
Doctors have said the transplant shows that the heart of a genetically modified animal can function in the human body without immediate rejection.
Last year, just over 3,800 heart transplants took place in the US, a record number, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the country’s transplant system.
But NHS officials say there is “still some way to go” before pig organs can be routinely used in transplants.
Commenting on the surgery, a spokesperson for NHS Blood & Transplant said: “We are always interested in new research that may allow more patients to benefit from transplants in the future.
“While the transplant operations performed today are very successful; There are still not enough donor organs to help all those in need.
“Recently, through the culmination of years of research, we have seen some important steps forward, and this latest development makes the possibility of transplantation between animals and humans a potentially safe and ‘attainable’ future treatment option.
“However, there is still some way to go before such implants become an everyday reality.
“We congratulate the team for successfully carrying out this operation and our thoughts are with the patient and his family in the days to come.”
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