Heart transplant is still an experiment

The transplant from a pig heart to a human being that was announced in the United States this week represents an impressive advance. But experts in France and the UK caution that it has yet to prove its long-term validity.

"In itself it is already a feat"French anesthetist François Kerbaul, head of transplants at the French Biomedical Agency, summed up on Wednesday.

The US University of Maryland announced Monday that a team of surgeons had succeeded in transplanting a pig’s heart into a human patient.

The operation was carried out on Friday and showed for the first time that the heart of an animal could continue to function inside a human without immediate rejection.

Other xenotransplants (from one species to another) had been tried in the past, but the patients died immediately.

The variant in the case of the American university is that the donor pig was a genetically modified animal to eliminate proteins that could have caused the immediate rejection of the recipient patient.

"It is a first stage but probably the next few weeks or the next few months will be crucial to give us perspectives"Kerbaul said.

It is this interval that will allow us to really know to what extent the transplanted organ is accepted by the body of the patient, a 57-year-old man who for medical reasons could not receive a human heart.

The heart of the pig was chosen because it has similarities to that of humans.

But can it function in the organism of a bipedal being, whose mobility is far superior to that of the four-legged pig?

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"What will count will be the medium and long term", summarized the British cardiac surgeon Francis Wells in statements collected by Science Media Center.

"At the moment there are no elements in this regard and we will carefully monitor how this brave patient evolves"he added. "Maybe it was a bit early to announce something like this to the world", he opined.

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