With a month behind him and the world’s second transplanted pig heart inside him, new results from the University of Maryland School of Medicine show that xenotransplant recipient Lawrence Faucette is regaining strength and recovering from the surgery with no signs of organ rejection so far. After decades of failed animal-to-human transplants, Faucette became the second patient to receive the highly experimental surgery when he was ineligible for traditional heart transplant due to other health concerns.
“In many ways, this embodies the future of molecular medicine in surgery” said the medical school’s dean, Mark Gladwin, in a video released Friday. “We all hope that this might be a first step toward the beginning of an era where there’s no limitations of organs for patients with advanced heart failure or kidney failure. It’s auspicious in terms of the potential to really change the way we practice medicine.”
The University of Maryland team performed the world’s first human transplant of a genetically altered pig heart last year, though the patient died after two months for unclear reasons. Traces of a pig virus were later found in the heart, spurring new virus testing ahead of Faucette’s case. According to the university, more than 110,000 people are awaiting an organ transplant in the U.S., with most waiting on kidney donors and thousands likely to die in the interim. Scientists currently working to bridge the donor gap have tested pig kidneys and hearts in monkeys, aiming to gain formal approval from the Food and Drug Administration for further xenotransplant studies.