Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Centre in the US have announced the world’s first successful transplant of a genetically modified pig’s heart into a human.

They performed the seven-hour transplant on David Bennet, 57, who was living with terminal heart disease and had been deemed ineligible for a human heart transplant. He’s reported to be recovering well and is breathing on his own while connected to a heart-lung machine to help his new heart. Doctors will continue to carefully monitor his recovery and how well his heart is functioning over the next few weeks.

The pig was genetically modified to ‘switch off’ a number of genes that would otherwise have caused the organ to be quickly rejected – a major stumbling block denying some people with chronic heart conditions the chance of a new heart.

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Those who do receive a heart transplant must take a cocktail of immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives to ensure their body doesn’t reject the donated heart, plus other drugs to manage the side effects.

Early days for animal heart transplants

Our Medical Director, Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, said:

“The idea of using non-human hearts for transplantation for heart failure has been around for more than two decades. In this regard, this is a remarkable milestone in this journey, made possible by major advances in genetic engineering to modify the donor pig heart so it is not immediately rejected. However, these are early days, and we need to understand much better the medium- and long-term function and safety of this type of donor heart.”

Our heart transplant pioneers

We have funded research into heart transplantation since the early 1960s, even before the world’s first heart transplant in 1967. BHF-funded researchers were part of the team who performed the UK’s first heart transplant, and we now fund researchers who are finding ways to make transplants possible for more people in need as well as understanding the science behind transplant rejection.