A preventable pig virus infection may have contributed to the death of the first patient to undergo a heart transplant with a pig organ, MIT Technology Review reported this week.
David Bennett Sr, who suffered from a serious heart condition, received a genetically modified pig’s heart in early January this year – a major milestone in animal-to-human transplants, or xenotransplantation. He died in March. Initially, the hospital where the procedure was performed said the cause of death was unknown.
But last month, Bennett’s transplant surgeon said in a webinar that the heart was infected with porcine cytomegalovirus, a virus that does not infect human cells but can damage the organ. According to a German study, virus-free hearts transplanted into baboons survived much longer than virus-infected hearts.
Bennett received a heart from the biotechnology company Revivicor, which produces genetically modified pigs. They’re supposed to be virus-free, but this particular virus can be difficult to detect, said Joachim Denner, a virologist at the Free University of Berlin. MIT Technology Review. The company declined to comment MIT Technology Review on the heart and the virus.
It’s still unclear how much of a role the virus played in Bennett’s death. But if he died because of the virus — and not because his body rejected the organ — groups working on xenotransplantation probably won’t have to rethink their overall strategy. “If it was an infection, we can probably prevent it in the future,” said transplant surgeon Bartley Griffith during his presentation..