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Pig-Heart Transplant Could Solve Donation Shortage

By Miriam Bello | Tue, 01/11/2022 - 17:04

For the first time in history, a pig heart was successfully transplanted into a human. David Bennett, a 57-year-old man with fatal heart disease, received a heart transplant from a genetically modified pig, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center

The surgery had previously been granted emergency authorization by the FDA based on the university’s data. The transplant was performed on an end-stage heart disease patient who had no other treatment options and is now recovering. If proven successful, scientists hope pig organs could help alleviate shortages of donated organs.

“Just in Mexico and the US, over 17,000 and 90,000 people, respectively, are waiting for a kidney transplant,” explains Alejandro Rossano, Director General, Grupo Médico Rossano, MBN. In Oct. 2021, US scientists successfully tested the transplant of a pig kidney to a human.

In 2021, over 23,000 people were waiting for an organ or tissue transplant in Mexico. In 2018, 20 people died every day waiting for a transplant, reports the National Transplant Center (CENATRA), and every 10 minutes someone joins the transplant waiting list. CENETRA explains that the organ demand exceeds availability by three times.

A poor donation culture linked people's beliefs, said Mexican Deputy Claudia Reyes. “People often think that donation can affect health when it is made in life but other factors inhibiting donations can be structural deficiencies and lack of trained staff, as well as a lack of information and consent of the family of the potential donor.” Reyes had urged the Chamber of Deputies to promote donation through information campaigns clarifying the scope of transplants and donations to erase doubts and promote donation.

Regionally, PAHO created a Strategy and Plan of Action on Donation and Equitable Access to Organ, Tissue and Cell Transplantation 2019-2030. The program aims to increase equitable access to organ, tissue and cell transplants based on voluntary and altruistic donation and observing the guiding principles on transplants of the WHO. While those strategies have been somewhat successful, there are still thousands of lives at stake. The experimental procedure in which "humanized" pig organs are transplanted could bring them relief, Rossano said.

“Attempts to adapt organs from different animal species to humans are not new. Genetic mapping and its codification determined a whole new era of knowledge of the human genome, with the subsequent beneficial effect of putting at our disposal personalized medicine based on specific risks according to the genetic conformation of each individual,” explains Rossano.

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Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst