Troy, N.Y. In early 2008, there was a frightening failure in drug safety processes. In just a few weeks, more than 100 Americans had died after being administered contaminated doses of the common blood thinner heparin. The contaminant, present in heparin manufactured in China and discovered with the help of scientists from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was so structurally similar to pure heparin that is was undetectable to all but the most sophisticated detection techniques. As a result, many people became seriously ill or died around the world and the several hundred thousand patients that receive the drug every day in the U.S. were put at risk.
The health crisis pointed to very large problems with the safety processes surrounding heparin, which is one of the most commonly administered drugs in American hospitals today. Most notably, it called worldwide attention to the risks posed by a product made nearly entirely of material from the guts of foreign livestock in less stringently regulated overseas factories. With a $4.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (under the Bioengineering Research Partnership program), research led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will make its important final steps toward the development of a safer, synthetic alternative to current heparin. The researchers believe that kilogram quantities of the new drug could be developed in under five years.
"Our goal is to create a bioengineered heparin that is chemically and biologically equivalent to pharmaceutical heparin currently prepared from pig intestines," said Jonathan Dordick , one of the lead researchers for the study, who is the Howard P. Isermann Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS). "Our process will improve the safety and uniformity of heparin and prevent future contamination or adulteration of the important drug."
Dordick will be joined
|Contact: Gabrielle DeMarco|
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute