The revolution in organ transplants in animals

This article is taken from the monthly Sciences et Avenir – La Recherche n ° 903, dated May 2022.

This time, the xenograft really took hold. It lasted exactly 61 days. From January 7 to March 8, David Bennett, a 57-year-old American with end-stage heart failure, lived with a “foreign” transplant (xenos, in Greek) of animal origin: a pig’s heart. A record for a non-human heart that will have resisted the rejections after sanctioning – almost – all the other attempts: pigs, monkeys, goats, rabbits … However, this incompatibility between animal transplants and the human immune system is the historical problem xeno -transplantation, the purpose of which is to obtain grafts on demand in view of the scarcity of human organs. But antibodies and immune cells, trained to fight xenos precisely, is reluctant.

In the case of David Bennett, rejection is not the cause of death, according to Bartley Griffith, clinical director of the cardiac xenotransplant program at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore (USA): “He could not overcome […] the general impairment due to his previous period of heart failure, which was extreme. “The organ itself “acted like a ‘rock star’, very well “, he even dared to say when the death was announced. Muhammad Mohiuddin, the surgeon who had operated on him, confirmed to us that “The heart had no typical signs of rejection “.

The recipient who died of a swine virus?

Following the writing of this article, preliminary analyzes were published during the American Society of Transplantation Meeting and in the MIT Technology Review. They explain that the presence of a swine virus in the recipient’s DNA could have contributed to the sudden deterioration of his condition. New data should be communicated soon.

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