Scientists have set a new record for the amount of time a baboon can live with a pig’s heart.

A team of German researchers say their new transplant method - which involves keeping the hearts oxygenated through the circulation of blood (rather than static cold storage) - allowed one baboon to survive for 195 days post-surgery.

Further research is needed before the first pig heart is transplanted into a human, they say, but as rates of heart failure increase, this may one day be the solution to the shortage of available donor hearts.

Transplantation is the only long-term intervention available for patients with terminal heart failure.

However, the supply of viable donor organs is insufficient to meet present clinical demand.

The use instead of genetically-modified pig hearts has been proposed as a potential solution to this deficit, with pre-clinical tests having been undertaken in baboon models.

However, to date the longest survival duration of a baboon recipient of a transplanted, life-supporting pig heart had been 57 days on one occasion.

Professor Bruno Reichart and colleagues have now demonstrated that longer-term transplants of life-supporting pig hearts into baboons can be repeatedly achieved.

The authors refined the procedure with three successive groups of transplant subjects (16 baboons in total).

They achieved successful long-term transplantation in the final group by keeping the hearts oxygenated through the circulation of blood (rather than static cold storage) during the transplant process, and preventing the transplanted organs from detrimentally enlarging by lowering the baboons’ blood pressure and using compounds known to control cell growth.

Four of the five baboons in the final group remained healthy for at least 90 days (when the experiment was terminated), including one that was in good health after 195 days.

The study is accessible here.