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06th May 2022

First pig heart transplant patient may have died due to virus animal was carrying

Kieran Galpin

Man who received pig heart transplant may have died due to virus the animal had

It was not the sole reason though

The man who became the first person in the world to get a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig may have died because of a virus the animal was carrying.

Earlier this year, David Bennett underwent surgery to become the first human to receive a genetically modified pig heart. However Bennett’s condition deteriorated in the following weeks and he sadly passed away two months after the surgery.

University of Maryland School of Medicine
Via University of Maryland School of Medicine

“He looked really funky,” said Dr Bartley Griffith, the University of Maryland surgeon who performed the transplant on Bennett, during an American Society of Transplantation webinar, as reported in MIT Technology Review. “We are beginning to learn why he passed on.”

He said that the virus may have been “the actor that set this whole thing off.”

Griffith pointed out that if this was the case, that means it was a preventable issue and that similar transplantations in the future could last “for years.”

However, Joachim Denner of the Institute of Virology at the Free University of Berlin said he does not believe the virus was the sole cause of Bennett’s death.

University of Maryland School of Medicine

Denner, who has previously worked on studies looking into pig hearts transplanted into baboons, said: “This patient was very, very, very ill. Do not forget that.

“Maybe the virus contributed, but it was not the sole reason.”

Griffith admitted that no matter what caused Bennett’s death, it was still a “hard” loss for everyone involved.

“This was a patient. It wasn’t an experiment to us,” he said.

“All he wanted to do was live. In fact, he was such a funny guy. On the way in to get his pig heart transplant, he looked at me and he said squarely, ‘Are you sure I can’t get a human heart?’”

According to a statement emailed to Insider, the University of Maryland said that there is currently “no evidence that the virus caused an infection in the patient or infected any tissues or organs beyond the heart.

“The cause of death of pig heart recipient David Bennett, Sr, is still being studied,” the statement continued, adding: “Dr. Bartley Griffith, who led the xenotransplant surgical team, recently presented preliminary findings at a scientific conference where he noted that research continues into various potential causes.

“Among these potential causes was the patient’s advanced state of heart failure before the transplant. Dr. Griffith also noted that they found evidence of a virus called porcine cytomegalovirus (pCMV) through highly sensitive special testing.”

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