Scientists in York have created a new medical tool which could help surgeons carrying out complex procedures in the operating theatre.

Researchers at the University of York have developed a dye which provides a quick and accurate method of checking levels in the blood of heparin – an important anti-coagulant which plays a significant role in major surgery.

The scientists in the department of chemistry have drawn inspiration from biological systems to allow the dye to bind heparin even in highly competitive human serum.

In the laboratory, they have modified existing dyes to create one which has excellent sensing capacity for heparin and pinpoints the anti-coagulant’s level in human serum, with the potential to work more quickly than existing clinical methods for doing this.

The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Because the dye can rapidly detect heparin levels, the scientists have named it ‘Mallard Blue’ as it is the same shade as the livery of the A4 Pacific Mallard.

Professor Dave Smith, of the department of chemistry who led the research, said: “We have named the dye ‘Mallard Blue’, after the record-breaking steam train, ‘Mallard’ which is housed in the Railway Museum here at York. Our dye is the same colour as the locomotive, and we believe it is similarly ground-breaking in its performance.”

The York researchers worked with a team led by Sabrina Pricl at the University of Trieste, who used high-level computer modelling to understand precisely how Mallard Blue binds to heparin so strongly.

The next stage in this research would involve the incorporation of this new dye into a device to give simple bedside readings of heparin levels in blood.