Pig organ transplants cause cautious optimism among officials

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NEW YORK CITY, New York: In the latest in a string of developments in the long quest to one day save human lives with animal organs, New York researchers transplanted pig hearts into two brain-dead patients over the last month.

This week’s transplants come after a historic but failed attempt earlier this year, when doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center transplanted a pig heart into 57-year-old David Bennett, who survived for two months.

“We learned so much from the first one that the second one is much better,” said Dr. Nader Moazami, who led the operations at NYU Langone Health.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering whether to allow a small number of Americans who need new organs to volunteer for rigorous studies of either pig hearts or kidneys.
NYU Langone, which is among three transplant centers planning trials, will meet with the FDA in August to discuss requirements.

Meanwhile, Dr. David Klassen of the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the nation’s transplant system, said testing the technique in the deceased could help fine-tune how the first trials in the living are designed.

“They serve as an important sort of stepping stone,” he said, as quoted by the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Alice Michael, the longtime partner of one of the deceased recipients, Lawrence Kelly, said he had suffered from heart disease for most of his life and “he would be so happy to know how much his contribution to this research will help people like him” in the future, according to the Associated Press.

Known by scientists as xenotransplantation, animal-to-human transplants have been tried for decades, but without success, as human immune systems almost instantly reject foreign tissue. However, pigs are now being genetically modified so their organs are more compatible with humans.

More than 100,000 people in the United States are on the national waiting list for transplants, most of them kidney patients, and thousands die every year before they can have their operations.

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