The world’s second recipient of a pig heart transplant died this week, nearly six weeks after the procedure.
Lawrence Faucette, 58, was suffering from terminal heart disease and received a heart transplant from a genetically altered pig on 20 September. He died on 30 October.
“We mourn the loss of Mr Faucette, a remarkable patient, scientist, Navy veteran and family man, who just wanted a little more time to spend with his loving wife, sons and family,” Bartley Griffith, the surgeon who performed the transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, said in an in memoriam note.
Faucette, a father of two who worked as a lab technician at the National Institutes of Health before retirement, was doing physical therapy following the surgery to regain his walking ability.
“He knew his time with us was short, and this was his last chance to do for others,” said his wife, Ann Faucette, in the same note as Griffith. “He never imagined he would survive as long as he did.”
Last year, Griffith’s team performed the world’s first genetically modified pig heart transplant on 57-year-old David Bennett, a handyman who was suffering from advanced heart failure. Bennett died two months after the procedure from heart failure. While there were no signs of rejection in the weeks following Bennett’s transplant, a case study found that Bennett probably became more vulnerable to organ rejection from antibodies produced by his immune system. The heart also had traces of porcine cytomegalovirus, a latent virus that infects pigs, which may have contributed to transplant complications.
Muhammad Mohiuddin, a professor of surgery and the scientific program director of the cardiac xenotransplantation program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a statement alongside Griffith and Ann Faucette that the school will “conduct an extensive analysis to identify factors that can be prevented in future transplants” as was done “with the first patient, David Bennett Sr”.
Mohiuddin also expressed gratitude to “Faucette and his family for enabling us to continue to make significant advancements towards making xenotransplants a reality”.
“Mr Faucette was a scientist who not only read and interpreted his own biopsies but who understood the important contribution he was making in advancing this field,” he said.
Xenotransplantation – the animal-to-human transfer of cells, tissues and organs – is a highly experimental medical field that seeks to solve the organ-shortage problem. Both Faucette and Bennett were too sick with end-stage heart disease to receive traditional transplants that use organs from deceased humans. Both of the patients received hearts from pigs that had been genetically modified to make their organs better suited for a human body, including the deletion of a gene to prevent the pig heart from growing.
More than 100,000 people in the US are on the national transplant waiting list. One more person is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes. Kidneys are the most needed organ, with 85% of patients in need of a kidney transplant.