Patient who died after being given pig heart transplant may have died from pig virus

David Bennett's condition deteriorated after receiving the pig heart

Published

A man who died after being given a pig heart in the world's first ever transplant may have died from a pig related virus.

David Bennett, 57, had been deemed ineligible for a human transplant, a decision taken by doctors when the patient is deemed in very poor health.

He is said to have thought medics were joking when the operation to replace his heart with one of a pig was initially proposed.

But the surgery was initially successful, with doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Centre reporting he was initially well days after surgery.

The pig heart being transplanted
The pig heart being transplanted
Surgeon Bartley P. Griffith, MD performs a successful transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart on David Bennett
Surgeon Bartley P. Griffith, MD performs a successful transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart on David Bennett

However, Mr Bennett's condition began deteriorating in the following weeks.

Two months later he died, with doctors reporting no clear cause of death.

The MIT Technology Review has reported a pig virus called porcine cytomegalovirus.

Muhammad M Mohiuddin, Professor of Surgery at UMSOM, said: "Although the evidence is lacking, there is a definite concern of porcine pathogens causing disease in humans."

Mr Bennett had been “very willing to die” but wanted to undergo the operation so that it might help others in future, adding that there had been “extensive ethical committee involvement”.

The surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Centre in Baltimore seven hours.

Doctors have said the transplant shows that a heart from a genetically modified animal can function in the human body without immediate rejection.