Heart transplant

How did the pig heart transplant patient die? A preventable infection may be to blame

History was made in January when, at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in Baltimore, a genetically modified pig’s heart was transplanted into a human patient for the very first time. The patient, David Bennett, 57, had end-stage heart failure and his requests for a conventional heart transplant had been denied by several institutions, including the UMMC. The FDA approved this landmark procedure with emergency clearance.

Bennett appeared to be progressing well after the transplant, according to an initial update from his care team, but died in March. At this point, no details have been shared with the public regarding the possible cause of death.

Now, according to the original surgeon who transplanted the pig heart to Bennett, it has been learned that the pig heart was infected with the porcine cytomegalovirus virus. It’s not 100% clear if the virus was the sole reason for Bennett’s death, but it appears to have played a significant role.

Bartley P. Griffith, MD, shared the news during a webinar hosted by the American Society of Transplantation. It was first reported by the MIT Technology Review team.

Griffith explained during the webinar that the impact of the virus came in waves – first it was a failed test, then Bennett seemed to improve, then the complications returned – before eventually causing too many inflammation for the heart to manage.

“I personally suspect that he developed capillary leak in response to his inflammatory outburst, and that filled his heart with edema, the edema turned into fibrotic tissue, and he went into severe diastolic heart failure. and irreversible,” said Griffith, quoted in MIT. Cover of Technology Review.