The man was feeling fine and doctors were sure he was recovering.
The historic operation to transplant the heart of a genetically modified pig into a human ended in something of a failure: two months after the operation, the man died.
Only now did it become known what probably caused the recipient’s death.
After a one-time operation that doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore performed on 57-year-old David Bennett, the man felt fine and doctors were confident he was recovering. However, after a while the patient got worse and on March 8 he passed away.
After careful examination of the transplanted heart, the scientists found that the donor pig was infected with porcine cytomegalovirus, a herpes virus that usually causes inflammation of the nasal mucosa in newborn piglets that resolves without treatment. However, in some cases, cytomegalovirus can infect pregnant sows and cause fetal death. Scientists previously found that this particular virus was the cause of failed organ transplants from pigs to primates, according to TechnologyReview.
The donor pig from which the heart was removed was tested for this disease, but the tests were done with swabs from the animal’s nasal cavity and the test results were negative, while the virus existed silently in deeper tissues.
“If you better test the animal, this won’t happen. The virus can be easily detected and removed, but unfortunately they did not find it. This was the cause of death: the donor pig was infected and the virus was transmitted through the transplant, says Joachim Denner of the Institute of Virology at the University of Berlin.
For their part, the family of the late David Bennett thanked the doctors who gave a loved one another two months to live, with the deceased’s son saying the unique operation gave the doctors the opportunity to gain invaluable experience. that could become a beacon of hope for many people in the future.
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