The first pig heart transplanted into a human patient carried an animal virus

– Africa Studio /

The team responsible for the first pig heart transplant on a human patient, performed earlier this year in the United States, announced that the organ was contaminated with an animal virus, which could have contributed to its death.

Porcine cytomegalovirus

David Bennett Sr., 57, died on March 8, two months after his heart transplant. Provided by the Regenerative Medicine Society Revivicorthe organ had been taken from an animal that had undergone a dozen specific genetic modifications, aimed at reducing the risk of rejection by the human immune system.

The team that performed the landmark surgery recently said the heart was tested multiple times before the transplant for traces of porcine cytomegalovirus, but explained that the protocols used only detected active infections, not latent ones. in which the virus hides in the body without actively replicating.

Three weeks after the transplant, tests had revealed the presence of low levels of porcine cytomegalovirus in the blood of Bennett. Yes the Dr Bartley Griffith and his colleagues initially thought it might have been a laboratory error, forty days after the transplant their patient’s condition had deteriorated sharply and tests had shown a sharp increase in blood levels ofADN viral.

— Dmitry Kandinskiy /

“It is clear that the virus may have contributed to the deterioration of his general state of health”

Specific to pigs, the porcine cytomegalovirus theoretically cannot infect human cells. However, the latter could have replicated suddenly and uncontrollably in the transplanted organ, triggering a potentially fatal inflammatory reaction in the patient.

« We cannot say with certainty that this is the main cause of death, but it is clear that the virus may have contributed to the deterioration of his general health. “, valued Jay FishmanAssociate Director of Centre de transplantation du Massachusetts General Hospital.

According to Griffith, tighter screening tests on animals will be needed to prevent transfer of such viruses in future animal-to-human transplants. ” If this type of infection is indeed the cause, we can probably prevent it in the future. “, he concludes.