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First pig-to-human heart transplant: what can scientists learn?

Surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center transplanted a genetically altered pig heart into David Bennett.Credit: University of Maryland School of Medicine

Researchers hope that a person who has so far lived for a week with a genetically modified pig heart will provide a trove of data on the possibilities of xenotransplantation.

The first person to receive a transplanted heart from a genetically modified pig is doing well after the procedure last week in Baltimore, Maryland. Transplant surgeons hope the advance will enable them to give more people animal organs, but many ethical and technical hurdles remain.

“It’s been a long road to get to this point, and it’s very exciting we are at a point where a group was ready to try this,” says Megan Sykes, a surgeon and immunologist at Columbia University in New York City. “I think there’s going to be a lot of interesting things to be learned.”

Physicians and scientists worldwide have for decades been pursuing the goal of transplanting animal organs into people, known as xenotransplantation.

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