In what may be the most astonishing (and ethically murky) experiment since the CRISPR babies, scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder have successfully transplanted python hearts into three human patients. The transplant recipients—once extremely stressed, pre-quals graduate students—are now in perfect health. Even more astonishing is the patients’ sudden, extreme weight loss. In just under one month, the once-obese patients have lost enough weight to land in healthy range of the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale.
This obesity super-cure is just the latest feat from the lab of Dr. Leslie Leinwand. For decades, the Leinwand lab has used pythons as a model to study human heart hypertrophy, or pathological enlargement of the heart. Pythons are a unique model for studying heart growth as their hearts nearly double in size upon eating. Remarkably, python hearts shrink back to normal size in almost no time.
“Human heart hypertrophy is incredibly dangerous,” explained Melissa Blaese, graduate researcher and mad lead scientist behind the transplant study. “People with enlarged hearts often die from complications of heart failure. I thought that if we could figure out how python hearts shrink so quickly, perhaps we could devise a treatment for human patients.”
But, after spending years failing to uncover the exact mechanism for pythons’ shrinking hearts, Blaese went rogue.
“I’ve been in grad school for 8 [expletive] years,” explained Blaese. “I just kept thinking, ‘How can I get myself out of here faster?’ And then it hit me…why struggle to find a cure when we can just give humans python hearts instead?”
So, with the fearlessness that only an eighth-year grad student can muster, Blaese moved forward with her plan. Unbeknownst to her coworkers, she removed the hearts from three lab pythons, later transplanting them into human subjects*.
To the surprise of many, the surgeries were successful. At just under one-month post-operation (and just over one-week post-qualifying exams), all three transplant recipients seemed healthier and happier. Patients’ blood pressure dropped an average 50 millimeters of mercury from hypertensive to the low end of normal, and their blood showed no residual stress markers. Even more striking, however, were the drastic changes in body composition.
“I was dropping weight like crazy!” exclaimed snake-human hybrid Jason Alvares. “You shoulda seen me last week…I don’t even look like the same person. My ex-boyfriend is so gonna regret leaving me.”
While the python heart transplants seem to be a one-size-fits-all obesity cure, physicians are recommending people proceed with caution
“We know little to nothing about cross-species transplants,” explained Dr. Haneen Akacem, medical director at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Cumberland, Maryland. “Sure, the initial results are promising, but what about the long-term side effects?”
Akacem may be on to something, as reports of bizarre symptoms are trickling in.
“My husband is a completely different person!” explained the wife of one patient, who wishes to remain anonymous. “He just seems so cold and distant, spending all of his time lazing about in the sun. Not to mention the change in appetite…after years as a dedicated vegetarian, he’s refusing to eat anything but venison!”
Other reported symptoms include increased jaw flexibility and extreme skin shedding.
When asked about the ethical implications of the experiment, Blaese simply responded, “Listen, that’s for the media to work out. I just graduated, I’m outta here.” With that, she slithered out of her office and could no longer be reached for comment.
*Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the subjects were willing transplant recipients. We have since learned that Blaese coerced subjects, saying she “knew a guy” and that participants would “totally pass their qualifying exams”
By Gretchen Wettstein
This is fantastic. I’d love a snake heart, I’m already pretty lizardy.