Learn how cocaine helped in the first pig-to-human heart transplant

Recently, the first heart transplant from a genetically modified pig to a human took place. The feat, hitherto unheard of, was considered a true milestone in medicine. However, an unusual item appears in the list of products used during the procedure: cocaine.

Before you think: no, the drug was not used illegally and medical staff obtained authorization from the Drug Enforcement Administration to administer the product. In fact, cocaine was part of a cocktail of drugs used to keep the pig's heart active during surgery.

In an interview with Vice, the director of the heart transplant center at the University of Maryland explained the use of the product. “When we weren't using this solution, we were getting failures within 48 hours,” he said. “But when we started using this and infusing the heart with this solution, the heart was well preserved and started beating really well.”

cocaine in surgery

The specialist even joked that the drug is necessary during the procedure, although many people get scared when they see the product listed among the ingredients of the surgery. “The name cocaine comes up because everyone thinks, 'Oh my God, what is cocaine doing here?'”

Doctors still don't know why the drug helps keep the heart working longer. The fact is that, without it, the transplanted organ was rejected by the human body. “If we hadn't done that, the rejection happens in minutes and the organ is useless”, concluded the doctor.

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Bartley Griffith, left, was the lead surgeon for Dave Bennett, who received a pig heart.
Bartley Griffith and Dave Bennett
Image: University of Maryland School of Medicine
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understand the transplant

Doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine were able to successfully transplant a genetically modified pig heart into David Bennett as part of an experimental procedure.

With this, they demonstrated that a genetically modified animal organ can function inside the human body and without immediate rejection. Three days after the procedure, Bennett is alive and "doing well," according to hospital information.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the procedure out of compassion, as Bennett was ineligible for a traditional heart transplant and there were no other options. “It was either die or have this transplant. I want to live. I know it's a long shot, but it's my last choice," the patient said in a statement.

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