The historic pig heart transplant to man offers hope; Why pigs are chosen, How they contributed to medical sciences, explained

The news that came out recently stunned the world as it was a pig heart transplantation in a human body. The US surgeons have transplanted a pig’s heart inside a human patient and it has become a history in the field of medical science.  A 57-year-old Maryland man is doing well three days after receiving a genetically modified pig heart. The pig heart transplant move has been seen as a medical first that could one day help solve the chronic shortage of organ donations.

The achievement of pig heart transplant now paves the way for more such experiments in the near future and it might help doctors come up with new steps in the medical field. Experts also say that this development could bring us one step closer to solving the global organ shortage. 

It was a decade-long wait by a group of doctors, there were experiments, studies, and practical as well as theoretical examinations on the working of such an incredible move. The success of this landmark, first-of-its-kind surgery is a quantum leap in xenotransplantation, experts opined.

The move has been taken depending on the poor health condition of the 57-year-old US patient. “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,” Bennett said before the surgery, and CNN reported it. 

The experiment with the pig heart transplant has been done earlier. Some other animals are also chosen for the move. However, Pigs have been the most recent research focus to address the organ shortage. In the past scientists and researchers have gene-edited pigs and for decades have been successfully transplanting their heart valves in humans. 

The main reason why pigs are chosen is that both humans and pigs have an anatomically similar organs. Recently, the NYU researchers attached a gene-edited pig’s kidney to a human body, leading to the first successful life-saving xenotransplantation.

Scientists earlier have experimented with Monkeys and apes but the result was negative. Then they shifted to pigs after identifying the close similarity between the anatomy of humans.  pigs are produced for food, have large litters and short gestation periods. Therefore, using them for organs raises fewer ethical concerns. But there are still unaddressed environmental and ethical concerns.

Read Also: First time in medical history…US Surgeons successfully implant Pig heart in a human with terminal heart disease

One of the biggest challenges to transplantation is organ rejection. Scientists have addressed the problem by genetically altering pigs’ organs.“The future utilization of pig organs and cells for transplant into humans will revolutionize transplantation,” the late Carl G Groth, a transplant surgeon, in a 2007 study noted.

In India alone, patients need 25,000-30,000 liver transplants annually. But only about 1,500 end up receiving them. As per the report by the Directorate General of Health Services, nearly 50,000 persons suffer from heart failures annually. Still, only about 10-15 heart transplants are performed every year. 

Moreover, in 1984, Baby Fae, a dying infant, lived 21 days with a baboon heart.