Transplantation of animal organs to humans, a milestone for medicine

A few days ago the heart of a pig beats in the body of a man. This historical event occurred in united states lafter a patient with terminal heart disease received an organ from a genetically modified pig.

Options had already been exhausted. David Bennett, 57, had her regular transplant due to her serious health condition. Was the University of Maryland Medical Center, in Baltimore, who decided to perform this procedure that lasted eight hours and has been successful so far.

For the first few days after the operation, the man had been hooked up to a heart-lung bypass machine to help his new heart. Recently his son, who also goes by the name David Bennett, spoke about this feat. “This is groundbreaking, this is extraordinary and, frankly, it’s a miracle,” he said.

“He was in the operating room three days in a row. He has a lot of swelling all over his body, so he is in a lot of pain. This healing is going to be a process. The first words that came out of his mouth were ‘I can’t handle this’, but I know how strong my dad is and I know of his desire to live,” added the patient’s son.

This surgery demonstrated that an animal heart can function in the human body without immediate rejection.

Given this fact, which marks a milestone in the history of medicine, Raphael of the Castle, medical surgeon and coordinator of the Transplants of the General Clinic of the North of Barranquilla, expressed his pleasure at this scientific advance.

In the first instance, he explained that these transplants between different species are called xenotransplantation, and it is called isotransplantation when they are from the same species.

“In 1933 a Russian transplanted a kidney from a gorilla to a woman but these never worked because she rejected them. What is currently being done and with the understanding of the genetic part is to improve isotransplants, whether from living or cadaveric donors”.

“With xenotransplantation, it must be said that these are animals that are no longer pigs as such but are genetically modified organisms (GMO) (…) These species, which grow in sterile conditions, in their genes they do not produce the HLA . antigenos, which helps the recipient of the organ to reject it to a lesser extent”, Del Castillo added.

The surgeon doctor says that this is not a guarantee of a long life and that it will be the investigations and the improvement of the patient that determine its effectiveness. Although the heart may not be specifically rejected, the body may have other reactions.

The main risk that is run when talking about this surgical intervention is zoonosis, which refers to animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans.

On the other hand, Del Castillo, who is also a kidney transplant specialist, says that in Colombia there are more than 45 thousand people with kidney failure. “There is a very long waiting list of patients and we cannot cover the need of all these people with what is donated from cadaveric because there is a very low donation culture, especially on the Coast.”

If this mechanism applied to Bennett works, it would open up hope for patients in the long term, however, “we should not offer many expectations until time passes and there are concrete results,” Del Castillo warned.

This surgery is performed by transplant cardiovascular surgeons, the technique It is the same that is applied for a conventional transplant, even the medications are the same, therefore, the expert considers that the medical staff is qualified to take on this challenge.