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Transplanted heart was infected

The pig heart transplanted into a human patient in January was infected with a porcine virus, which may have contributed to the recipient’s death two months after the surgery. The operation, in which American man David Bennett Senior, 57, was given a pig’s heart genetically altered to prevent the immune system from rejecting it, was carried out by a team led by Bartley Griffith, a surgeon from the University of Maryland (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue nº 312). Bennett died in March and according to the university, the cause of death is still under investigation. At an American Society of Transplantation event in April, Griffith revealed that the organ had been infected with porcine cytomegalovirus, associated with reactions that impair the organ’s ability to function. The team identified fragments of the pathogen in the organ 20 days after the transplant, but at such low levels that it could have been a laboratory error. Tests conducted about 40 days after surgery, however, showed that the amount of the virus had increased. At around the same time, Bennett became seriously ill. “That’s when we started to think the virus could have set this whole thing off,” Griffith told the magazine MIT Technology Review. Experts stress the importance of pigs bred to provide organs for humans being virus-free. Revivicor, the American company that donated the heart, is yet to respond.