Earlier this summer, physicians at NYU Langone were able to successfully transplant pig hearts into two recently-deceased humans. The medical team performed the procedures on June 16 and July 6, using special pig hearts that were genetically modified to be more acceptable for transplantation into a human body. Both the bodies were donated by recently deceased individuals and were placed on ventilator support so the efficacy of the pig hearts could be measured more accurately.
The study arrives as the field of xenotransplantation — or the act of transferring organs from one species to another — is under increased scrutiny. The first person to undergo a pig heart transplant this year, of what scientists believe was an adverse reaction to a drug to prevent rejection. The heart also contained DNA with a pig virus. Since the incident, the medical community has called for more meaningful research on the subject, as well as better safety protocols. Meanwhile, the FDA is considering approval of clinical trials for pig heart transplantation in humans, the Wall Street Journalreported last month.
Both human subjects — a 72-year-old Navy veteran and a 64-year-old retired New York City teacher — were monitored for three days before being taken off life support. Neither heart needed any outside support and functioned normally, which researchers are seeing as a promising sign for future research. Despite the NYU experiment’s positive outcome, surgeons cautioned that much more research is needed before pig heart transplants can be a viable alternative for people with heart disease.
“This is not a one-and-done situation. This is going to be years of learning what’s important and what’s not important for this to work,” NYU’s Dr. Robert Montgomery the Associated Press.