The first pig-to-human heart transplant may have failed because of the swine virus, the report said

A Maryland man who died for no apparent reason two months after receiving the first-ever genetically modified pig heart transplant may have fallen victim to a swine virus linked to the failed transplant, the patient’s doctor has found, according to MIT Technology Review.


  • David Bennett Sr., who had terminal heart disease, received the cross-species transplant on January 7 at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, and he initially appeared to be responding well before unexpectedly deteriorating and dying on March 8 .
  • Bartley Griffith, Bennett’s transplant surgeon, said in an American Society of Transplantation webinar last month that the heart was infected with the swine cytomegalovirus, which may have caused Bennett’s death, the MIT Technology Review reported Wednesday.
  • This virus, which can cause breathing difficulties and pregnancy complications in pigs, has been linked to failed organ transplants between pigs and baboons.
  • The pig was bred by biotechnology company Revovicor, which modified the pig’s genome to reduce the risk of heart rejection by Bennett’s body and prevent excessive tissue growth after the transplant.
  • If the virus caused Bennett’s death, it presents an obstacle that is likely to be overcome in future surgeries, Griffith reportedly said during the webinar.
  • Revivicor declined to comment on the virus to MIT Technology Review and did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes.

key context

The possibility of a pig virus adapting to infect humans after transplantation worries researchers who hope interspecies transplants may one day help solve the serious shortage of human organ donors. Because of the risk of transmitting dangerous cross-species diseases, animal transplant recipients and their personal contacts — including pets — should be screened on a regular basis, a group of transplant researchers said in a 2013 paper released by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). However, the porcine cytomegalovirus is not thought to infect humans, Jay Fishman, a transplant-related infection specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told MIT Technology Review. Baboons have been used to test pig-to-human transplantation techniques and have demonstrated the danger posed by porcine cytomegalovirus. A 2015 study published by the NCBI found that kidney transplants between pigs and baboons failed nearly four times faster when the virus was present, and a 2020 study by Nature found that heart transplants between pigs and baboons failed quickly with the virus , while transplants without the virus can last longer than six months. The authors of the Nature study said the infected hearts had extremely high levels of virus, possibly due to intentional suppression of the baboon’s immune system during transplantation, or due to the lack of the immune system in pork, which might have been better suited to suppressing a for pork specific virus. According to the researchers, a human who received a heart infected with porcine cytomegalovirus would most likely have experienced the same reduction in survival time.

Article translated from Forbes US – Author: Zachary Snowdon Smith

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