A U.S. man with terminal heart disease was implanted with a genetically modified pig heart in a first-of-its-kind surgery, and three days later the patient is doing well, his doctors reported on Monday.
The surgery, performed by a team at the University of Maryland Medicine, is among the first to demonstrate the feasibility of a pig-to-human heart transplant, a field made possible by new gene editing tools, Reuters reported.
If proven successful, scientists hope pig organs could help alleviate shortages of donor organs.
“This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis. There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients,” Dr. Bartley Griffith, who surgically transplanted the pig heart into the patient, said in a statement.
“We are proceeding cautiously, but we are also optimistic that this first-in-the-world surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future,” Griffith added.
According to the report for 57-year-old David Bennett of Maryland, the heart transplant was his last option.
“It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice,” Bennett said a day before his surgery, according to a statement released by the university.
To move ahead with the experimental surgery, the university obtained an emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on New Year’s Eve through its compassionate use program.
“The FDA used our data and data on the experimental pig to authorize the transplant in an end-stage heart disease patient who had no other treatment options,” said Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, who heads the University’s program on xenotransplantation – transplanting animal organs into humans.
About 110,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before getting one, according to organdonor.gov.
Bennett’s genetically modified pig heart was provided by Revivicor, a regenerative medicine company based in Blacksburg, Virginia. On the morning of the surgery, the transplant team removed the pig’s heart and placed it into a special device to preserve its function until the surgery, read the report.
Pigs have long been a tantalizing source of potential transplants because their organs are so similar to humans. A hog heart at the time of slaughter, for example, is about the size of an adult human heart.
Other organs from pigs being researched for transplantation into humans include kidneys, liver and lungs.
According to Reuters prior efforts at pig-to-human transplants have failed because of genetic differences that caused organ rejection or viruses that posed an infection risk.
Scientists have tackled that problem by editing away potentially harmful genes.
In the heart implanted in Bennett, three genes previously linked with organ rejection were “knocked out” of the donor pig, and six human genes linked with immune acceptance were inserted into the pig genome.
Researchers also deleted a pig gene to prevent excessive growth of the pig heart tissue.
The work was funded in part with a $15.7 million research grant to evaluate Revivicor’s genetically-modified pig hearts in baboon studies.
In addition to the genetic changes to the pig heart, Bennett received an experimental anti-rejection drug made by Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals based in Lexington, Mass.
Cholera cases rising in Takhar
Cholera and diarrhea cases are rising among children and adults in Afghanistan’s northern Takhar province, local officials said.
Abdul Qahar Ahadi, provincial health director, said that more than 20,000 patients suffering from various diseases visited public health facilities during the past two months, which is unprecedented.
Takhar’s main hospital meanwhile said that most of the visitors were treated for cholera and diarrhea.
Hayatullah Imami, an official at Takhar hospital, said that 30 percent of patients visiting the facility daily were suffering from diarrhea.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with Vibrio cholerae bacteria.
People can get sick when they swallow food or water contaminated with the cholera bacteria. The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe and life-threatening.
EU signs deal with Bavarian Nordic for delivery of monkeypox vaccine
The European Commission on Tuesday said it had signed a deal with Danish biotech firm Bavarian Nordic (BAVA.CO) for the delivery of around 110,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine.
The agreement marks the first time that the EU budget is used for the direct purchase of vaccines and would make the shots rapidly available to all EU member states, Norway and Iceland, the commission said.
Around 900 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 19 EU countries, Norway and Iceland since May 18.
Research finds ‘alarming’ levels of chemicals in male urine samples
A study of urine samples from nearly 100 male volunteers has uncovered “alarming” levels of endocrine disruptors known to reduce human fertility.
Cocktails of chemicals such as bisphenols and dioxins, which are believed to interfere with hormones and affect sperm quality, were present at levels up to 100 times those considered safe, scientists have found.
The median exposure to these chemicals was 17 times the levels deemed acceptable.
“Our mixture risk assessment of chemicals which affect male reproductive health reveals alarming exceedances of acceptable combined exposures,” wrote the authors of the study, published on Thursday in the journal Environment International.
The study measured nine chemicals, including bisphenol, phthalates and paracetamol, in urine samples from 98 Danish men aged 18 to 30.
The study authors, led by Professor Andreas Kortenkamp of Brunel University London, said they were “astonished” by the magnitude of this hazard index in the volunteers studied, Euronews reported.
Sperm quantity and quality have dramatically declined across Western countries in recent decades, with research suggesting sperm counts have been more than halved in the space of 40 years.
Meanwhile, other reproductive health disorders have been on the rise, such as non-descending testes and testicular cancer.
Scientists around the world have considered a range of other possible causes behind falling sperm counts, including lifestyle factors, tobacco consumption and air pollution.
But recent studies have increasingly zeroed in on the role played by chemicals, Euronews reported.
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