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The drugs taken by a heart transplant patient in the course of a year.

The drugs taken by a heart transplant patient in the course of a year.

Credits:Science Museum

The development of ciclosporin changed the direction of transplant surgery. Ciclosporin is an immunosuppressant drug which prevents the body rejecting its new organ. It was first used in a surgical procedure in 1980, although it was originally developed in 1972 by researchers employed by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Sandoz (which is now part of Novartis). Its development caused a huge increase in the number of organ transplants - by the mid-1980s there were 29 centres in the United States which performed heart transplants.

Ciclosporin also enabled multi-organ transplants, although criticism was levelled at doctors for undertaking such life-threatening surgery and treating patients as guinea pigs. (In 1992, 5-year-old Laura Davis went through transplants and re-transplants of up to six organs in the United States until she died.) A transplant recipient must take immunosuppressants such as ciclosporin for the rest of his or her life.


J F Borel, ‘Effect of the new anti-lymphocytic peptide Cyclosporine A in animals’, Immunology, 32 (1977), pp 1017-1025

W Sneader, Drug Discovery - A History (Chichester: Wiley, 2005)