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U.S. man recovering after ‘breakthrough’ pig-heart transplant

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(Last Updated On: January 11, 2022)

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.

Health

New Langya virus infects 35 people in China

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(Last Updated On: August 10, 2022)

A new virus, which can be transmitted to humans from animals, has infected 35 people in Shandong and Henan provinces, according to a study by scientists from China, Singapore and Australia published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

So far, there has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

The Henipavirus (also called Langya henipavirus or LayV) was first detected in late 2018 but was only formally identified by scientists last week, the Guardian reported.

It was discovered  thanks to an early detection system for feverish people with a recent history of exposure to animals, Bloomberg reported.

The virus was found after throat swabs were taken from the patients who were mostly farmers.

The virus is entirely novel, meaning it has not infected humans before.

But two viruses from the same family had been identified previously – the Hendra virus and Nipah virus. Both can cause severe and sometimes fatal illnesses. There are no vaccines or treatments, The Sun reported.

So far, the cases have not been fatal or very serious, so there is no need for panic, said Professor Wang Linfa from the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore who was involved in the study.

He added that it is still a cause for alarm as many viruses that exist in nature have unpredictable results when they infect humans.

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Italy kicks off vaccination campaign against monkeypox

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(Last Updated On: August 8, 2022)

Italy launched its vaccination campaign against monkeypox on Monday, as case numbers increased at a time when health authorities are reporting vaccine shortages worldwide, Reuters reported.

Italy has reported 545 cases of monkeypox, according to the health ministry. Its vaccination campaign started more than a month after other countries that have seen higher numbers of cases, including the United States, Britain and Spain.

The first doses will be given at the Spallanzani hospital in Rome, the hospital said in a statement.

The vaccine used will be Jynneos (MVA-BN), a smallpox vaccine made by Bavarian Nordic and approved by the European Medicines Agency for protection against monkeypox, the hospital said.

On Thursday, vaccinations will also begin in Italy’s financial capital, Milan.

Monkeypox is spread chiefly by close contact, causes pus-filled sores and flu-like symptoms, and is rarely fatal. There have now been 26,500 cases worldwide outside the countries where it usually spreads, according to a Reuters tracker.

In July, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a “public health emergency of international concern”, its highest alert level.

The first case in Italy was recorded on May 20, 2022. There are no current plans for mass vaccinations.

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Cholera infects over 400 in quake-hit Spera district of Khost

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(Last Updated On: August 7, 2022)

More than 400 people have been infected with cholera over the last 10 days in Spera district of Khost province, the site of a deadly earthquake that struck six weeks ago, officials said on Sunday.

Mohammad Nabi Zadran, head of a mobile health team in Khost, said that eight people have died of cholera in Spera district, including five children and three adults.

Most of those infected are women and children. Officials said cholera is reported also in Gyan and Barmal districts of Paktika province.

“They should assist us. Foreign countries should assist us as we are suffering,” said Abdullah Noor, a resident of Spera district.

Health officials said that efforts are ongoing to control the spread of the disease.

Fazl Karim, Khost’s health director, said that a total of 40 mobile health teams were deployed to fight the cholera outbreak.

The UN agency for children also said this week that after the recent earthquake there is an increased risk of an outbreak of diseases like cholera in Spera district in Khost.

“Thanks to the support from USAID, we have been able to provide safe drinking water to 1,500 of the most vulnerable families,” UNICEF said on Twitter.

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