Genetically Altered Pig-Heart Survives More Than A Year Inside Baboon

A pig heart modified to express human genes has survived more than a year grafted to the inside of a baboon's abdomen, according to researchers at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the NIH.

At left: Study authors Muhammad Mohiuddin (right) and Philip Corcoran graft a genetically altered pig heart into a baboon | Photo Credit: Robert F. Hoyt / NHLBI-NIH

Here's WaPo's Rachel Feltman:

Why do we care about pig hearts in baboon stomachs? The ultimate goal is to use these hybrid organs for human transplants. [Ed. Note: pig heart valves are commonly used in human heart surgeries, and have been for decades.] According to the NHLBI, there are about 3,000 people waiting for a heart transplant in the United States — and only about 2,000 donor hearts available each year. Other scientists are focusing on creating organs from scratch (by 3D printing a scaffolding and populating it with the host's own stem cells, for example), but it could be that genetically modified pigs provide a faster solution.

The pig hearts were altered to express human genes that researchers hoped would curb rejection by the host and reduce blood clotting – two complications common in so-called xenotransplants.

"Our study has demonstrated that by using hearts from genetically engineered pigs in combination with target-specific immunosuppression of recipient baboons, organ survival can be significantly prolonged," said first author Mohammed Mohiuddin, in a statement. "Based on the data from long-term surviving grafts, we are hopeful that we will be able to repeat our results in the life-supporting model [Ed.: i.e. a model in which a baboon's heart is fully replaced by a functional, long-lasting, genetically modified pig heart]".

The researchers' results are published in The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.

[Via WaPo]