On January 7, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical School in the U.S. made news when they transplanted a genetically modified pig heart into a 57-year-old man .
Few remember now that Dhaniram Baruah, a cardio-thoracic surgeon based in Sonapur near Guwahati, transplanted the organs of a pig into a human body in 1997. However, Dr. Baruah’s xenotransplantation procedure ended badly.
Xenotransplantation is the process of grafting or transplanting organs or tissues between members of different species.
“It is not easy for a human body to accept the organs of a pig. Time will tell whether the human body will accept the organ of a genetically-altered pig,” the 72-year-old doctor, who lost his voice after undergoing throat surgery some time ago, said via S.A. Achrekar, a senior scientist at his research institute in Sonapur.
At an international conference in 1995, Dr. Baruah had said pigs are close to humans in various aspects. He had at the time developed an “electric motor-driven artificial biological heart made of ox pericardium that was implanted in a pig”.
Dr. Baruah said he had carried out 102 animal experiments on xenotransplantation. He transplanted a pig’s heart, lung and kidneys to Purno Saikia, a 32-year-old end-stage organ failure patient, on January 1, 1997. Jonathan Ho, a Hong Kong-based doctor, had assisted him in the transplantation at his research centre.
But Sakia died a week later, triggering an uproar. The two doctors were arrested on January 10 under the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, booked for culpable homicide and imprisoned for 40 days. Subsequently, the Assam government formed an inquiry committee that found pig heart implants to be unethical and unlawful.