One month after an experimental procedure to transplant a genetically modified pig heart into a patient with end-stage heart disease, doctors say the heart is functioning naturally and shows no signs of rejection.
In September, 58-year-old Lawrence Fawcett underwent surgery, the second such surgery in human history. Fawcett’s heart condition and underlying medical conditions made him unsuitable for a traditional human heart transplant.
“The doctors treating him believe that his heart function is excellent,” said Dr. The surgery was performed by Bartley Griffiths, director of the heart and lung transplant program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“Currently, there is no evidence of infection or evidence of rejection.”
Dr. “All medications that were initially supporting his heart will be discontinued,” Muhammad Mohiuddin, director of UMMC’s cardiac xenotransplant program, said in an update released Friday. So now his heart is doing everything on its own.”
Mohiuddin said the focus now is making sure that Faucette has the strength to perform routine functions.
“We are working very hard with our physical therapy team who are spending a lot of time helping him regain the strength that he’s lost during last one month of hospital stay,” Mohiuddin said.
In video released by UMMC, Faucette is shown undergoing physical therapy, including cycling to improve his leg strength. When his physical therapist, Chris Wells, reminds him to keep smiling, Faucette laughs and says, “That’s the tough part!”
When Faucette came in, “he never expected, frankly, to be able to stand ever again” said Griffith. While Faucette is not standing on his own yet, he is able to get out of bed with some minimal assistance and doctors say they are at a “pivot point.”
Griffith said that it was time to plan for the next stage of Faucette’s recovery and “thinking about where’s Larry gonna go in terms of his next location.”
Faucette is a married father of two from Frederick, Maryland, and a 20-year Navy veteran who had most recently worked as a lab technician at the National Institutes of Health.
In another moment shared by UMMC, Fawcett is seen undergoing a heart scan with a doctor. “One looks like a normal heart, and we were definitely hoping for that,” he says.
Fawcett was first admitted to his UMMC on September 14th after experiencing symptoms of heart failure. His heart stopped twice during his hospitalization and was only recovered by an automatic defibrillator in his room.
“My only real hope is to have a pig heart, a xenotransplant,” Fawcett told the hospital in an in-house interview a few days before the surgery.
“I have no expectations other than the hope that we can spend more time together,” his wife Anne Fawcett said at the time. “It could be as simple as sitting on the porch and having coffee together.”
This experimental xenotransplant was greenlit under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Compassionate Use Program. According to the FDA, the program is designed to provide “patients with serious or immediately life-threatening diseases or conditions with access to investigational drugs (drugs, biologics, or medical devices) for treatment outside of clinical trials.” “This is a potential route.”
The pig hearts used were from genetically modified pigs from his Revivcor company, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics Corporation. This pig has three genes that have been ‘turned off’ or inactivated to remove the alpha-gal sugar in the pig’s blood cells, which can cause a severe reaction in the human immune system that causes organ rejection. Ten genes, including , were altered. Additional pig genes were modified to control the growth of pig hearts, and six human genes were inserted into the pig genome to increase its acceptability by the immune system. The FDA first approved genetically engineered pigs for therapeutic use and consumption in 2020.
There are currently no clinical trials that utilize pig organs for transplants in living human beings.
Doctors also treated Faucette with an experimental antibody treatment to further suppress the immune system and prevent rejection. He continues to be monitored for any signs of rejection or any development of pig related viruses. The donor pig was also closely screened for any signs of virus or pathogens.
The hospital said Faucette fully consented to the experimental treatment and was informed of all the risks. Additionally, he underwent a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation and discussed his case with a medical ethicist.