Researchers develop synthetic molecules to replace protamine

New synthetic molecules developed by York University researchers may eventually help patients to recover from surgery without the danger of allergic reactions to drugs.

During surgery, patients are given heparin to thin the blood and prevent clotting. However, once surgery is finished, it is essential to remove the heparin and allow clotting so that the patient can recover. Currently, this is done with the drug protamine, a natural product extracted from shellfish. But this can cause serious side effects in some patients.

Now, however, researchers from York University’s Department of Chemistry have created synthetic molecules that are designed to self assemble into nanometre-sized structures with similar dimensions to protamine and that contain multiple heparin binding units. This means they are capable of binding the chemical drug heparin just as effectively as protamine.

Prof Dave Smith from York University’s Department of Chemistry said: ‘Clearly there is lots of fundamental work still to be done before any clinical applications. However, we hope that this approach may eventually yield biocompatible and degradable heparin binders that will help surgical recovery without any of the side effects that can be caused by protamine.’