Published: March 29, 2022

Category: GMO News

The first person to undergo transplant surgery and receive the heart of a genetically modified (gene-edited) pig died on March 8, 2022. The ground-breaking procedure immediately raised alarm bells in various quarters, with experts from medicine, animal rights, and religion speaking up.

Heart patient David Bennett, 57, underwent the operation on January 7 as a last- ditch attempt to save his life. In the end he “wasn’t able to overcome …the devastating debilitation” caused by the heart failure he experienced before the transplant, said Dr. Bartley Griffith, director of the University of Maryland Medical Center. Medical researchers are optimistic about the potential of animal-to-human transplants, however; the transplanted heart functioned “beautifully” for nine weeks.

But ethical concerns abound. Medically, the surgery offers huge patient risks—probably higher than for human organ transplants. Clinical trials are needed, with rigorous tissue and animal testing to ensure safety.

Animal rights advocates decry modifying genes of animals to make them more like humans. Long-term effects of modification could impact the pig’s health.

A PETA statement reads: Animal-to-human transplants are unethical, dangerous, and a tremendous waste of resources…The risk of transmitting unknown viruses… [is real]and, in the time of a pandemic, should be enough to end these studies forever. Animals aren’t toolsheds to be raided but complex, intelligent beings.

Religious leaders from both Judaism and Islam say transplanting pig hearts or valves does not violate religious teaching if done to save a patient’s life.

Sources: Reuters; BBC News; PETA

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Organic & Non-GMO Insights April 2022