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Deadly dose: Rensselaer heparin expert helps uncover source of lethal contamination
Date:4/25/2008

Troy, N.Y. -- The mysterious death of patients around the world following a routine dosage of the common blood thinner, heparin, sent researchers on a frantic search to uncover what could make the standard drug so toxic. A researcher at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was among a small group of scientists with the expertise and the high-tech equipment necessary to determine the source of the contamination.

Robert J. Linhardt, the Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. '59 Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering at Rensselaer, is part of an international team that recently announced it had uncovered the source of the deadly contamination. On April 23, the team led by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), described the source in the journal Nature Biotechnology -- a complex carbohydrate named oversulfated chondroitin sulfate, which has a structure so similar to heparin it was nearly undetectable to less advanced technology.

"Days after the deaths were first linked to heparin, we had the drugs in our hands from the FDA and our nuclear magnetic resonator (NMR) was set into motion to break down the structure of the drug and determine what could possibly be the source of the contamination," Linhardt said. "Now that we know the most likely source of the contamination, we are developing much stronger monitoring systems to ensure that this type of contamination is detected before it reaches patients."

Although extremely close in chemical structure to heparin, the contaminant caused severe allergic reaction in many patients who were receiving routine treatment for kidney dialysis, heart surgery, and other common medical issues. The researchers' extremely detailed structural analysis of the drug, using technology such as the NMR, was able to detect the minute differences between the contaminated drug and a normal dosage of heparin. And while Linhardt and others are developing more sophisticated
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Contact: Gabrielle DeMarco
demarg@rpi.edu
518-276-6542
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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