An Animal Virus Infected The Man Who Received A Pig’s Heart

A 57-year-old Maryland man who survived two months with a heart transplant from a genetically altered pig was infected with a virus that animals are known to carry, according to the surgeon who performed the first-of-its-kind procedure General Chat Chat Lounge

The disclosure bolsters one of the most pressing objections to animal-to-human transplants, which is that the use of widespread modified animal organs may facilitate the introduction of new pathogens into the human population.

The infection may have contributed to the sudden deterioration and death on March 8, 2015. Bartley Griffith, a transplant surgeon at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said during a presentation to the American Society of Transplantation.

Dr. Griffith’s comments were first reported by MIT Technology Review.

The pig was genetically modified so that its organs would not prompt rejection by the human immune system. The heart was provided to the patient, David Bennett Sr., by Revivicor, a regenerative medicine company based in Blacksburg, Va.

Company officials declined to comment on Thursday. University officials said the animal had been screened for the virus, called porcine cytomegalovirus. But the tests do pick up only active infections, not latent ones in which the virus may hide quietly in the pig’s body.

Credit …University of Maryland School of Medicine, via EPA, via Shutterstock

Mr. Bennett’s transplant was initially deemed successful. He did not show signs of rejecting the organ, and the pig’s heart continued to function well over a month, passing a critical milestone for transplant patients.

A test indicated the presence of porcine CMV Bennett transplanted 20 days later, but at such a low level that Dr. Griffith said he thought it might have been a lab error. At 45 days after the surgery, Mr. Bennett became acutely ill, and subsequent tests showed a precipitous rise in levels of the virus, Dr. Griffith said.

“So we started thinking about the virus that showed up very early at Day 20 as just a twinkle started to grow in time, and it may have been the actor – it could have been the actor – that set it all off,” Dr. Griffith told other transplant scientists.

Mr. Bennett’s health deteriorated abruptly 45 days after the surgery, he said.

“At Day 45, he looked really funky,” Dr. Griffith said. “Something happened. He looked sick. He lost his attention. He doesn’t talk to us. He lay in bed breathing hard, and was kind of warm. “

The heart transplant was one of several groundbreaking transplants in recent months that offer hope to the tens of thousands of patients who need new kidneys, hearts and lungs amid a dire shortage of donated human organs.

But the unforeseen consequences of the prospect – and especially the potential introduction of an animal disease into a human population – may be due to the use of genetically modified organs for dampen enthusiasm.

Many scientists believe that the coronavirus pandemic originated with a virus transmitted from an animal, as yet unidentified, to people in China.

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