Biomedical Research Commentary

A Man Who Received a Heart Transplant from a Pig

This article discusses the use of genetically modified pig hearts for heart transplants and highlights the case of David Bennet, a pig heart recipient.

Giving organs to someone who needs them is known as organ transplantation. The concept of organ transplantation was initially proposed in the 1900s, and the first cornea transplant was performed in the Czech Republic, with the patient regaining his sight. Joseph Murray performed the first kidney transplant in the United States in 1954, and the same approach is still used today, benefiting many patients. In 1963, Dr. Thomas Starzl performed the first kidney transplant in the world, but the patient died soon after. Dr. Starzl began a series of studies into drugs in order to help patients who had a transplant live a longer life. In 1965, an organ donated by a deceased individual happened in the United Kingdom. Dr. Christaian Banard of South Africa performed the world’s first heart transplant. Although the patient died as a result of the procedure, it demonstrated that transplantation is possible. The first successful kidney transplant occurred in 1967, following multiple investigations. In the 1980s, countries all over the world began to establish donor cards and organizations to administer transplants in order to ensure the safety and reliability of organs supplied by donors.

Transplant occurs when a collection of cells from one person are removed and transplanted into another person or another area of the same person’s body. When people receive a transplant, the recipient’s immune system may reject it because it recognises it as foreign
tissue. Immunosuppressive medicine may be required after the transplant to prevent rejection. Transplants of hearts, lungs, and livers, to name a few, are now possible thanks to current technology, but standard tests and checkups between the donor and recipient are
required, such as blood groups, tissue kinds, infection, and general health.

Dr Richard Lower’s attempt to transfer blood from animals to humans in 1665 was initially rejected because it resulted in many deaths. However, according to BBC News, “Man gets genetically-modified pig heart in a world-first transplant.” Bartley P Griffith, a surgeon at the
University of Maryland School of Medicine, performed this 7-hour surgery to transplant a genetically modified pig heart into David Bennett, a 57-year-old patient with terminal heart disease. Bennett would die if the surgery was not performed, so this was his last resort.

David Bennett was convicted of the stabbing in 1988. Mr. Bennett was sentenced to ten years in prison for stabbing Edward Shumaker in 1988. The public has argued that Mr. Bennett is unworthy of a heart transplant because of his history and that he does not deserve attention despite being the first man in the world to receive a transplant from other animals. Doctors, on the other hand, believe that a person’s history should not be used to determine the level of care he receives because doctors must adhere to the four pillars of
medical ethics: do no harm, justice, autonomy, and non-maleficence.
On January 31, 2022, medical professionals from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) and the Maryland Medical Centre (UMMC) performed the surgery. Dr. Mohiuddin, the scientific director, and Dr. Griffith, the clinical director, monitored the surgery.

Dr. Mohiuddin is a *xenotransplantation expert, and he co-founded the Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program with Dr. Griffith in 2017. Dr. Mohiuddin spent over 30 years proving that pig hearts can function normally in humans through peer review, and the last 5 years modifying the surgical process used in transplantation surgery. UMSOM received $15.7 million USD in funding for the research. The pig heart has been genetically modified: there are genes in pig hearts that may cause human rejection; these genes have been removed. In addition, six genes that aid in the acceptance of a pig heart by humans were inserted into the genome. Another gene that promotes the growth of pig heart tissues was also removed.

The doctors at the medical school determined that Mr. Bennett is not a candidate for a human transplant; this decision is usually made when the patient’s health is at its worst. This is due to Mr. Bennett’s irregular heartbeat, which resulted in the mechanical heart pump being banned and him receiving a human transplant because he did not follow doctors’ orders. The solution of using a genetically modified pig heart was first approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as genetically modified pig hearts are
only used for medical experiment purposes. Although the FDA rejected Dr. Mohiuddin’s trial experiment a few years ago, they approved this surgery that lasted for 7 hours because it was the last option to save the patient’s life. This surgery was successful, and Mr. Bennett’s heart function is still normal. He did, however, need to be watched. First, consider the heart’s performance, such as irregular heartbeats, swelling, and so on. Second, his immunology response, such as how his immune system reacts to the new genetically modified pig heart, and whether or not rejection occurs. Mr. Bennett will also need to take anti-rejection medication.

The public, on the other hand, has criticised the surgery as unethical and dangerous. Animal rights, religion, and medical implications were some of the ethical issues raised by this performance. For starters, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) ruled that
genetically modifying an animal’s organ to make it act like a human organ is unethical. Furthermore, the pig heart was removed in the morning on the surgery day, prompting some to argue that animals have the right to life as well. In terms of religion, some people in
certain regions may refuse to accept an animal’s organ being transplanted into a human body; for example, Muslims and Jews do not consume pigs, though there are exceptions if it saves someone’s life. In terms of medical implications, the four pillars of medical ethics
should be considered: beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice. Patients should be given adequate information about the procedure, as well as the potential risks and outcomes of the surgery.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration of the United States (HRSA), 106,671 men, women, and children are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and 17 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant. If Mr. Bennett recovers
successfully from the surgery, it will demonstrate that transplants from animals can also work in humans, resolving one of the current medical problems of limited organs for transplantation. However, ethical issues should be addressed first by increasing public awareness and education. If the problem is resolved, it will result in a significant
improvement to current healthcare systems around the world, as well as providing a higher quality and more efficient healthcare for its people.

*Xenotransplantation: transporting animal organs to human

Mary Mak, Youth Medical Journal 2022


Kidney transplant tests. (n.d.). Organ Transplantation – NHS Blood and Transplant.

What is organ donation and transplantation? (2019). NHS Organ Donation.

A history of donation, transfusion and transplantation. (2018). NHS Blood and Transplant.

Man who had a pig heart transplant was guilty of a 1988 stabbing. (2022, January 15). BBC

Three ethical issues around pig heart transplants. (2022, January 11). BBC News.

University of Maryland School of Medicine Faculty Scientists and Clinicians Perform Historic
First Successful Transplant of Porcine Heart into Adult Human with End-Stage Heart
Disease. (n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2022, from
lt-human-heart cf_chl_jschl_tk=d_yQWc529rsUr2zUV6uriZXLm2di70fll9uuXumm9Cc-1

Reardon, S. (2022). First pig-to-human heart transplant: what can scientists learn? Nature.

HRSA. (2021, May). Organ Donation Statistics |

Organ and tissue transplantation. (2012).


By Mary Ho Yan Mak

Hello, my name is Mary, and I am from Hong Kong. I am now in year 12 in the UK and intend to pursue a career in medicine. I'm primarily interested in paediatrics, but I'd like to learn about a variety of medical areas to broaden my medical knowledge and experience.

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