The first person to receive a heart transplant from a pig has died, two months after the groundbreaking experiment, the Maryland hospital that performed the surgery announced on Wednesday.
David Bennett, 57, died on Tuesday at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Doctors didn’t give an exact cause of death, saying only that his condition had begun deteriorating several days earlier.
Bennett’s son praised the hospital for offering the last-ditch experiment, saying the family hoped it would help further efforts to end the organ shortage.
“We are grateful for every innovative moment, every crazy dream, every sleepless night that went into this historic effort,” David Bennett Jr. said in a statement released by the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“We hope this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end.”
Doctors for decades have sought to one day use animal organs for life-saving transplants.
Bennett, a handyman from Hagerstown, Maryland, was a candidate for this newest attempt only because he otherwise faced certain death ineligible for a human heart transplant, bedridden and on life support, and out of other options.
Prior attempts at such transplants have failed largely because patients’ bodies rapidly rejected the animal organ. This time, the Maryland surgeons used a heart from a gene-edited pig. Scientists had modified the animal to remove pig genes that trigger the hyper-fast rejection and add human genes to help the body accept the organ.
Bennett survived significantly longer with the gene-edited pig heart than one of the last milestones in xenotransplantation — when Baby Fae, a dying California infant, lived 21 days with a baboon’s heart in 1984.
“We are devastated by the loss of Mr. Bennett. He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought all the way to the end,” Dr. Bartley Griffith, who performed the surgery at the Baltimore hospital, said in a statement.