An animal virus infected humans who received a pig’s heart

A 57-year-old Maryland man who survived for two months with a heart transplanted from a genetically engineered pig was infected with a virus the animals are known to carry, according to the surgeon who performed the first procedure of its kind.

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

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

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

The pig was genetically engineered so that its organs did not cause rejection by the human immune system.The heart was provided to the patient, David Bennett Sr., by Revovicor, a Blacksburg-based regenerative medicine company, Virginia.

Company officials declined to comment on Thursday. University officials said the animal had been screened for the virus, called porcine cytomegalovirus. But the tests only detect active, non-latent infections where the virus could safely hide in the pig’s body.

Mr. Bennett’s transplant was initially deemed successful. He showed no signs of organ rejection and the pig’s heart continued to function for over a month, passing a critical milestone for transplant patients.

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

“So we started thinking that the virus that manifested very early on Day 20 as a lightning bolt started to grow over time, and it could have been the actor – it could have been the actor – who started it all. “said Dr. Griffith told other transplant scientists.

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

“On Day 45, he looked really extravagant,” said Dr. Griffith said. “Something happened. He looked sick. He lost his attention. He wouldn’t talk to us. He was lying in bed wheezing and he was pretty hot.”

Heart transplantation has been one of several groundbreaking transplants in recent months that offer hope to the tens of thousands of patients in need of new kidneys, hearts and lungs in a severe shortage of donated human organs.

But the prospect of unforeseen consequences – and particularly the potential introduction of an animal disease into the human population – can dampen enthusiasm for the use of genetically modified organs.

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