Despite ethical controversies, Dave Bennett, 57, a resident of Maryland, USA, agreed to receive a genetically modified pig heart as an alternative solution to his heart problem. 

The surgery lasted nine hours as doctors attached Bennett to the heart of a one-year-old, 240-pound pig bred explicitly for this purpose at the University of Maryland Medical Center, according to USA TODAY on Jan. 10. 

Three days into the transplant, Bennett is breathing independently without needing a ventilator. However, he is still hooked up to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) pump that does about half the work of pushing blood throughout his body. Doctors plan to wean him off it gradually.

This transplant was preceded by another one performed on the body of a person who had been declared brain-dead.

Bennett’s first signs of a heart issue manifested themselves in October when he began having severe chest pains, said his son David. 

In addition, he was suffering from severe fatigue and shortness of breath. “He couldn’t climb three steps,” David said. The uncontrollable arrhythmia prevented him from being fitted with an artificial heart. 

Bennett had already had a pig valve implanted nearly a decade ago, so he was somewhat familiar with this type of surgery. 

After finding that he had no other alternative, the process began on Dec. 15, when Bennett agreed to be part of the experimental surgery. Maryland’s officials submitted an application to the FDA on Dec. 20, requesting “compassionate use” authorization to proceed.

The genetic modification involved turning off three genes that typically trigger immediate immune rejection because the human organism recognizes that the inserted organ is not from its species. 

In addition, six human genes were added to prevent blood clotting in the heart, and improve molecular compatibility, thus reducing the risk of rejection.

In addition to animal rights activists opposing the use of pig organs, controversies about the ethics of these procedures continue to grow. 

For example, in June 2020, Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) opposed the “Endless Frontier Act,” which authorizes budget increases to continue the creation of human-animal hybrids. 

Lankford referred to the ethical incompatibility and the need to establish clear definitions on the matter. In addition, Lankford sought to criminalize these practices with the support of Senators Mike Braun and Steve Daines

“We shouldn’t need to clarify in law that creating animal-human hybrids or ‘chimeras’ is ethically unthinkable, but sadly the need for that very clear distinction has arrived,'” Lankford said.

While Senator Braun said, “Human life is distinct and sacred, and research that creates an animal-human hybrid or transfers a human embryo into an animal womb or vice versa should be completely prohibited, and engaging in such unethical experiments should be a crime.”

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