A preventable infection from a pig virus could have contributed to the death of the first patient to undergo a heart transplant using a pig organ, MIT Technology Review reported this week†
David Bennett Sr, who had serious heart disease, was given a genetically modified pig heart in early January this year – a major milestone in animal-to-human or xenotransplantation. He died in March. Initially, the hospital where the surgery was performed said the cause of death was unknown.
But last month, Bennett’s transplant surgeon… said in a webinar that the heart was infected with porcine cytomegalovirus, a virus that does not infect human cells but can damage the organ. According to a German, virus-free hearts transplanted into baboons survived much longer than virus-infected hearts study.
Bennett got a heart from biotechnology company Revvicor, which produces genetically modified pigs. They are said to be free of viruses, but this particular virus can be difficult to detect, Joachim Denner, a virologist at the Free University of Berlin, told MIT Technology Review† The company declined to comment on MIT Technology Review about the heart and the virus.
It is still unclear how large the role of the virus was in Bennett’s death. But if he died because of the virus — not because his body rejected the organ — groups working on xenotransplantation probably won’t have to rethink their overall strategy. “If this was an infection, we can probably prevent it in the future,” said Bartley Griffith, the transplant surgeon, during his presentation†