The first pig-to-human heart transplant required just the teensiest bit of cocaine

·2 min read
Relax, it’s just snow...literal, honest-to-God snow.
Relax, it’s just snow...literal, honest-to-God snow.

Last we checked in on porcine-derived organ transplants this past Halloween, doctors made the medical breakthrough of fooling a human host into accepting a genetically modified pig kidney—a feat as impressive as it was seasonally appropriate. Perhaps to get in the Valentine’s Day spirit of things, researchers have now pulled off yet another wonder of science that also doubles as a festive, if gallows, celebration: They successfully completed a pig-to-human heart transplant... and they owe it all to the wonders of cocaine!

Alright, not “all” to cocaine. Not even a whole lot, to be honest. But a teeny, tiny bit of it definitely saved the day.

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According to a rundown last week from VICE, part of the experimental surgery’s success is attributed to the “novel use of a solution combining a unique cocktail of hormones and a minute but controversial amount of cocaine.” It was the first time the mixture was utilized here in the States (it’s produced by the Swedish manufacturer, XVIVO) and required some pretty serious scrutiny from the DEA.

What’s particularly nuts here is that scientists apparently aren’t entirely sure why the hormone-and-coke recipe works so well at preventing donor hearts from rapidly deteriorating. Regardless, it definitely seems to do the trick.

“When we were not using this solution, we were getting failures within 48 hours. But when we started using this and infusing the heart with this solution, the heart became well-preserved and started beating very well,” explained Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, director of cardiac xenotransplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Between the advances in genetic alterations that allowed for the pig heart to be accepted by a human body and the life-extending coke cocktail, organ transplants could become much more accessible for thousands of patients in the coming years. It bears repeating, of course, that this was a very small amount of regulated cocaine for the purposes of a lifesaving procedure... cocaine, as a general rule, remains both extremely illegal and extremely problematic.

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