(CMR) A man who received a heart transplant from a genetically modified pig at a Maryland hospital has died two months after the groundbreaking surgery.
David Bennett, 57, died Tuesday at the University of Maryland Medical Center; however, doctors didn't give an exact cause of death, saying only that his condition had begun deteriorating several days earlier.
Bennett's family praised the hospital for the experiment, which could end organ shortage.
“We are grateful for every innovative moment, every crazy dream, every sleepless night that went into this historic effort. We hope this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end,” David Bennett Jr. said.
According to ABC News, Bennett, a handyman from Hagerstown, Maryland, was a candidate for this newest attempt only because he otherwise faced certain death being ineligible for a human heart transplant, bedridden, and on life support, and out of other options.
Prior attempts at xenotransplantation have failed mainly because patients' bodies rapidly rejected the animal organ. This time, the Maryland surgeons used a heart from a gene-edited pig: Scientists had modified the animal to remove pig genes that trigger the hyper-fast rejection and add human genes to help the body accept the organ.
Bennett survived significantly longer with the gene-edited pig heart than one of the last milestones in xenotransplantation — when Baby Fae, a dying California infant, lived 21 days with a baboon's heart in 1984. Last month, the hospital released a video of him watching the Super Bowl from his hospital bed while working with his physical therapist.
“We are devastated by the loss of Mr. Bennett. He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought all the way to the end,” Dr. Bartley Griffith, who performed the surgery at the Baltimore hospital, said in a statement.
Other transplant experts praised the Maryland team's landmark research and said Bennett's death shouldn't slow the push to figure out how to use animal organs to save human lives.
“This was a first step into uncharted territory,” said Dr. Robert Montgomery of NYU Langone Health, a transplant surgeon who received his own heart transplant. “A tremendous amount of information” will contribute to the next steps as teams at several transplant centers plan the first clinical trials.
“It was an incredible feat that he was kept alive for two months and was able to enjoy his family,” Montgomery added.