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Partner’s transplant op inspired breakthrough
WHEN a York scientist witnessed his partner recovering from a double lung transplant he was inspired to devise a revolutionary new technique to help patients after major surgery.
Professor Dave Smith, of the University of York’s Department of Chemistry, has designed and synthesised new chemical agents to assist with post-operative patient care.
He led an international team which developed agents to bind and potentially remove an anti-coagulant called heparin, and has named the approach “SAMul” nanomedicine – in honour of his husband Sam.
Prof Smith, of Scarcroft Hill, said Sam, now 34, underwent transplant surgery at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital in January 2011 because he suffered from cystic fibrosis, which had damaged his lungs, and the operation was successful.
He said he had been sitting at Sam’s bedside during his recovery when the idea of the new approach first came to him.
“I spent a long time talking to surgeons about all the drugs they used, and some of the problems they caused,” he said.
“As I sat there, looking at all the tubes, I realised that perhaps my research team could help.”
He said one of the drugs used during major surgery was heparin, which helped to prevent the blood from clotting.
However, once the patient was in recovery, surgeons wanted clotting to resume to aid the healing process.
To do this, they used a “heparin rescue agent”, called protamine, to remove heparin from the patient’s bloodstream.
But in some cases, this could cause side-effects, such as patients going into anaphylactic shock.
As a result, doctors had to use protamine cautiously, which could lead to inefficient clotting.
Prof Smith said: “I realised that my research group had developed expertise which could lead to chemical agents to bind, and perhaps remove the heparin.
“These chemical agents can be carefully designed to minimise side-effects and so improve patient care.”
Prof Smith and his team, which includes researchers from Liverpool, Trieste and Berlin, demonstrated that the new approach worked in human plasma in a laboratory setting, reversing the effect of heparin and allowing clotting to begin.
He said further research and testing would take place, but he hoped clinical trials would eventually be held, with the aim of helping patients after a variety of major operations.