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An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: The pig heart transplanted into an American patient earlier this year in a landmark operation carried a porcine virus that may have derailed the experiment and contributed to his death two months later, say transplant specialists. […] In a statement released by the university in March, a spokesperson said there was “no obvious cause identified at the time of his death” and that a full report was pending. Now MIT Technology Review has learned that Bennett’s heart was affected by porcine cytomegalovirus, a preventable infection that is linked to devastating effects on transplants.
The presence of the pig virus and the desperate efforts to defeat it were described by Griffith during a webinar streamed online by the American Society of Transplantation on April 20. The issue is now a subject of wide discussion among specialists, who think the infection was a potential contributor to Bennett’s death and a possible reason why the heart did not last longer. The heart swap in Maryland was a major test of xenotransplantation, the process of moving tissues between species. But because the special pigs raised to provide organs are supposed to be virus-free, it now appears that the experiment was compromised by an unforced error. The biotechnology company that raised and engineered the pigs, Revivicor, declined to comment and has made no public statement about the virus.
“It was surprising. That pig is supposed to be clean of all pig pathogens, and this is a significant one,” says Mike Curtis, CEO of eGenesis, a competing company that is also breeding pigs for transplant organs. “Without the virus, would Mr. Bennett have lived? We don’t know, but the infection didn’t help. It likely contributed to the failure.”
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