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Man's First-Ever Pig Heart Transplant Could Lead To Thousands Of Lives Saved

We're at a point in the development of medical science where it's feasible to undergo procedures that would have belonged in science fiction when we were kids.

And we can really see that in the kinds of transplants that are possible nowadays. One woman can give another who's always wanted to be a mom her uterus, it's possible to get a lung from a living donor, and it's possible to get a new life-saving organ before you even reach your first birthday.

However, there's only so much that any groundbreaking research can do about the fact that you actually need those donated organs for any transplant to be possible.

And while the scarcity of these organs will be all-too familiar and stressful for anyone on a waiting list right now, it's possible that one landmark operation could change that forever.

Until a few weeks ago, 57-year-old David Bennett of Maryland was in a situation that seemed as hopeless as it gets.

As People reported, he not only had a terminal heart disease, but was considered ineligible for a traditional heart transplant.

But after he spent weeks unable to get out of bed, the FDA granted emergency authorization for an experimental surgery that would serve as his last chance at life on New Year's Eve.

In Bennett's words, "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."

And the reason why it seemed like such a longshot was because he would end up with the heart of a pig in his body.

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And this was only possible thanks to some serious genetic modification as Bennett's body would be all but guaranteed to reject the heart if it was transplanted as-is.

This meant that four pig genes within the heart had to be deleted and six human genes had to be added so Bennett's immune system would accept it.

And when the moment of truth came on January 7, these edits appeared to work and Bennett became the world's first person to receive a heart transplant in this way.

And while a medical team led by Dr. Bartley Griffith is still monitoring Bennett for any signs that his body will reject the organ, the heart seems to be working normally.

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Although Bennett is still connected to a heart-lung bypass machine, the heart is already doing the majority of his body's work and he could be disconnected from the machine as early as January 11.

If all continues to go well, this procedure could have life-saving implications for the 110,000 Americans who are now on a wait list for an organ transplant. This is especially true in light of the fact that over 6,000 patients die on this waiting list every year.

In Griffith's words, "This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis."

h/t: People

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