American man first to receive groundbreaking pig heart transplant

Photo courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine

Photo courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine

   After being diagnosed with terminal heart disease at 57 years old, David Bennett Sr. was in desperate need of a heart transplant. Luckily, Bennett was presented with the lifesaving option to receive a donor heart– from a pig. On January 7, 2021, Bennett Sr. became the first human ever to receive a heart transplant from a genetically modified pig, a breakthrough in xenotransplantation, or the practice of transplanting animal organs in human hosts. 

   Revivicor, a biotechnology company specializing in therapeutic methods like xenotransplantation, raised the pig which would go on to become Bennett’s saving grace. In order to make the heart suitable for transplant, pigs must undergo genetic modification to prevent the heart from growing too large, prevent blood clots, and reduce the risk of organ rejection. According to Revivicor, the company’s long-term goal is to “create an unlimited supply of manufactured organs for transplantation.” 

   This would be an enormous step forward for the medical field, helping to reduce the number of patients who suffer or even die waiting on organ transplants. Currently, more than 100,000 patients are waitlisted for an organ transplant in the United States alone, and 6,000 people die per year waiting for lifesaving organs. By mass-producing genetically modified animals, thousands of lives could be saved through organ transplantation.

   According to Reuters, Bennett has been recovering well since his history-making transplant. However, there has been some backlash against Bennett’s selection as a candidate for the surgery. Prior to this transplant, David Bennett had not been on the list for a more common human heart transplant due to a reluctance to follow doctors’ orders. Worse, David Bennett Sr. was convicted of stabbing a man seven times in 1988, permanently paralyzing him.