As US hails 'medical first' of transplanting pig's heart into a man, Assam's Dr Dhani Ram Baruah did the same 25 years ago

Dr Dhani Ram Baruah, of international recognition, was arrested for transplanting a pig heart to a human recipient in 1997; the patient died a week later due to infection

FP Staff January 11, 2022 08:41:03 IST
As US hails 'medical first' of transplanting pig's heart into a man, Assam's Dr Dhani Ram Baruah did the same 25 years ago

Dr Dhani Ram Baruah had conducted the heart transplant in his very own facility back in 1997. Image Courtesy: Dr Dhani Ram Baruah/Facebook

As doctors in the United States hail the path-breaking surgery in which a patient is recovering after receiving a heart from a genetically modified pig in Maryland, it evokes memories of an Indian doctor who had attempted the same over 20 years ago in Assam.

For those who haven’t read, US doctors transplanted a pig heart into David Bennett, a 57-year-old Maryland handyman, in a last-ditch effort to save his life and a Maryland hospital said that he's doing well three days after the highly experimental surgery.

We go back in time to take a look at the case in which Dr Dhani Ram Baruah, a transplant surgeon from Assam conducted a pig-to-human heart and lung transplant in Guwahati and why that incident got shrouded in controversy and led to him being imprisoned for 40 days.

The incident

In 1997, Dr Dhani Ram Baruah, along with Hong Kong surgeon Dr Jonathan Ho Kei-Shing, carried out a pig-to-human heart and lung transplant in Guwahati.

A Times of India report says that Dr Baruah transplanted a pig's heart into a 32-year-old man, who had a ventricular septal defect, or hole in the heart.

According to Dr Baruah, the surgery — conducted at his very own facility, the Dhani Ram Baruah Heart Institute, and Institute of Applied Human Genetic Engineering at Sonapur outside Guwahati — was completed in 15 hours.

However, the 32-year-old man “developed new anti-hyperacute rejection biochemical solution to treat donor’s heart and lung and blind its immune system to avoid rejection”, reported the Indian Express, and he died a week later.

The transplant stirred controversy all over and both the doctors were arrested within a fortnight for culpable homicide and under the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, and imprisoned for 40 days.

The Assam government formed an inquiry into the case and found that the procedure was unethical.

The inquiry also found that the Dr Dhaniram Heart Institute and Research Centre had “neither applied for nor obtained registration” as required under the transplant laws.

What happened next?

After being in jail for 40 days, the doctor returned to his clinic but found it to be destroyed. A Times of India report added that he spent the next 18 months under virtual house arrest.

But, the doctor, who faced taunts, continued his research.

Controversy’s child?

Dr Baruah hit the headlines again in 2008 when he claimed that he had developed a 'genetically engineered' vaccine that would correct congenital heart defects.

In 2015, he once again became popular after claiming to have discovered the 'cure' for HIV/AIDS and that he had 'cured' 86 people in the past seven-eight years.

Dr Baruah presented the patient called Bijendra Singh of Rohtak, who, according to Baruah, was tested HIV-positive in 2008, but was now “totally cured” and had recently tested negative.

He also wrote to the UNAIDS, WHO and the National Institute of Health of USA to tell them of his 'successes' and was open to scrutiny.

With inputs from agencies

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