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A man from Maryland, David Bennett, received a heart transplant from a genetically altered pig but suffered numerous complications before dying.

Source: Inside Edition/Youtube

Although there were no reported signs of the patient rejecting the genetically modified heart, traces of a virus that is known to infect pigs called porcine cytomegalovirus was found in the man. The 57-year-old had reportedly been extremely ill before the surgery and survived two months after the transplant. The New York Times reported that according to the surgeon, it’s the first of its kind.

Viruses are one reason that many oppose animal-to-human transplants. Experts believe that modified animal organs can introduce new and harmful pathogens into the human population. Although the patient had no signs of an infection from the virus, it was found in his DNA, which they assume could have led to the decline in his health after the transplant.

Dr. Bartley Griffith of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who performed the transplant, told The New York Times in an interview that although they are extremely saddened by the loss of the patient, they are not deterring away from their goal of using animal organs to save lives.

“This doesn’t really scare us about the future of the field, unless for some reason this one incident is interpreted as a complete failure,” Dr. Griffith said. “It is just a learning point. Knowing it was there, we’ll probably be able to avoid it in future.”

Source: CGTN America/Youtube

The pig heart was genetically modified so that the organs would not be rejected by the human body. The pig was provided by Revivicor, a regenerative medicine company. According to the University, the pig was screened several times for the virus, however, the test only can detect present infections. The infection was later found in the pig’s spleen.

20 days after the transplant, the virus was found, but Dr. Griffith said that the levels were so low that he thought it was a lab error. Nearly 40 days after the surgery, the patient became ill, and tests showed a steep rise in the viral DNA levels.

“So we started thinking that the virus that showed up very early at Day 20 as just a twinkle started to grow in time, and it may have been the actor — it could have been the actor — that set this all off,” Dr. Griffith told other transplant scientists at the meeting.

Only five days later his health deteriorated and antiviral drugs and intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) were not helping. The heart filled with fluid, doubled in size, and eventually stopped working. The patient was put on a heart-lung machine and later died.

Transplants using donor animals, also known as xenotransplantation, are not a recent practice. Xenotransplantation carries a huge risk for humans, and it supports animals being tested on and farmed in unnatural environments. Before scientists are allowed to use animal organs for humans, many tests need to be performed on animals who can’t give their consent.

“Thousands of monkeys, chimpanzees, and baboons have been experimented on and killed in the course of this cross-species transplant research,“ PBS explains. Banning animal testing in the medical field is much more difficult to stop because of the lack of funds to research in other ways.

Is xenotransplantation ethical? Check out this article to learn more: Man With Genetically Modified Pig Heart Dies. Was the Experiment Ethical?

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