Cardiac surgeons in Munich expect the possibility of the first pig heart transplantation in a human being at the Großhadern University Hospital in a maximum of two years. “We are in the final phase,” said cardiac surgeon Bruno Reichart, member of the research team, of the German Press Agency.
“We’ve tried everything – except for our own pigs,” explained Reichart. Small animals from New Zealand were genetically modified for this purpose. “But an important element is still missing, and we’re working on that.” The animals only weigh 70 to 90 kilograms. Otherwise the heart would be too big for a human being.
After the modification, there must first be trials with baboons, said Reichart, who has been involved in xenotransplantation for decades and will be 80 on Wednesday (January 18). The monkeys should survive for a year before a pilot study on humans starts. The team is currently taking care of the approval at the Paul Ehrlich Institute.
A year ago, surgeons in Maryland, USA, performed the world’s first transplant of a pig heart to a human. Reichart said that the fact that the patient survived two months afterward, given his previous illnesses, is a good result.
Reichart, the heart surgeons Christian Hagl and Paolo Brenner and the veterinarian Eckhard Wolf from the Gene Center of the LMU are among the world’s leading teams in research with donor organs from animals. Seven years ago they had begun successful trials on baboons, which survived in good health for three to six months before being killed.
Everything should fit before the first intervention on a person. “I have the claim that things are going better than in Maryland a year ago,” said Reichart. Although he no longer operates himself. “But I would like to be there.”