An American man who became the first person to ever receive a genetically modified pig heart in January died suddenly in early March. Research now shows that the man most likely died of a swine virus, MIT Technology Review reported.
David Bennett, 57, suffered from a life-threatening heart condition. During an eight-hour operation, surgeons were able to transfer a pig’s heart from the man. It was the first successful heart transplant with a pig heart. The operation was a breakthrough in the medical world and seemed to offer a solution to the shortage of organs. However, Bennett’s health deteriorated rapidly after a month and a half and he passed away in early March.
Doctors now think they know why Bennett died after a successful transplant. Research has shown that traces of the porcine cytomegalovirus, a herpes virus that occurs in pigs, have been found in his body. Three weeks after the heart transplant, virus particles were already found in the man’s body, but according to doctors, it was so little that there was no reason to panic. Three weeks later, many more virus particles had been found, possibly triggering a major inflammatory response in Bennett’s body.
Despite Bennett’s death, doctors still see the heart transplant as a success and an important learning opportunity. “We’re finally beginning to understand why he died. Perhaps the virus was what caused this whole thing,” said Bartley Griffith, a surgeon at Maryland Medical Center, where the man was treated.
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