Jan. 15, 2022

On January 10, the University of Maryland School of Medicine announced that it had successfully transplanted a genetically-modified pig heart into a patient with life-threatening arrhythmia, a disorder that affects the rate or rhythm of heartbeats.

Cross-species transplant

  • Xenotransplantation, or transplanting organs across different species, was first tried in humans in the 1980s. The experiment was abandoned after the famous case of the American Baby Fae who was born with a congenital heart defect and received a baboon heart in 1984.

  • Xenotransplantation, if found compatible in the long run, could help provide an alternative supply of organs to those with life-threatening diseases.

Genetically engineered pig

  • “GalSafe” pigs, or pigs that had undergone editing to knock out a gene that codes for Alpha-gal (a sugar molecule) were used. Alpha-gal can elicit a devastating immune response in humans.

  • GalSafe pigs have been well studied, and are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in pharmacology.