Experimental pig-to-human heart transplants show promising results at NYU Langone

Unsplash/Hush Naidoo Jade Photography

Brooklyn doctors are hoping breakthrough experiments at NYU Langone Health will be a step toward addressing the nation’s organ shortage and providing an alternative supply of organs available for transplantation.

The hospital system performed two successful xenotransplants — the implantation of a pig’s heart into two clinically deceased patients — on June 16 and July 6.

The patients who received the transplants had already suffered heart failure and were pronounced brain dead, but continued to receive life support. This allowed surgeons more opportunities to experiment with the transplantation without fear it would cost the patient’s life, doctors told Brooklyn Paper.

“The heart was literally banging away,” said Dr. Nader Moazami, a surgeon who worked on the transplant team.

After several hours of surgery, the hearts beat normally inside both patients, and there were no signs of rejection, Moazami said. The patients were monitored for three days after surgery, when, once again, all appeared to be in working order.

“It was contracting completely normally,” he said. “We learned a tremendous amount.”

An estimated 17 people currently die each day waiting for organ donations, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Doctors hope that these experiments will be the first step in providing patients with a new supply of viable organs.

“Our greater purpose is to address the organ shortage and provide another option for the more than 100,000 people nationwide waiting on that lifesaving gift,” said Dr. Robert Montgomery, chair of the Department of Surgery at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and director of the Transplant Institute.

“The paradigm of whole-body donation — when organ donation is not a viable option — is critical to this work moving forward,” he said. “We are so grateful to the families who volunteer to participate in this research, which will lead to saving untold thousands of more lives.”