Robert Linhardt, the Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. ’59 Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering, has been named one of the Scientific American 10. Linhardt is featured in the June 2009 edition of the popular science and technology magazine for his lifesaving work with the commonly used blood thinner heparin alongside nine other global innovators including philanthropist and business leader Bill Gates and President Barack Obama.
“Dr. Linhardt’s work with heparin will help ensure that a safe supply of this widely used drug is available to those who need it most,” said President Shirley Ann Jackson. “He is also building the foundation to bring an entirely new and safer blood thinner to patients and hospitals worldwide. Dr. Linhardt is an exceptional researcher, and a gifted teacher and mentor. He brings to his research a sense of purpose and dedication that is well known by all who have the privilege of working with him.”
The 10 people recognized by Scientific American were noted for their “demonstrated outstanding commitment to assuring that the benefits of new technologies and knowledge will accrue to humanity.”
Linhardt, who is among the world’s foremost experts on heparin, has helped make the currently available heparin safer for patients and is leading the effort to create a safer, fully synthetic alternative to the current heparin, which is harvested from the intestines of mostly foreign livestock.
In early 2008, following the deaths of patients around the world from a routine dosage of heparin, scientists scrambled to find the cause. In April 2008, Linhardt and a small team of scientists announced the source of the patient death and illness a complex carbohydrate named oversulfated chondroitin sulfate. It was a contaminate so structurally similar to heparin it was nearly undetectable to some of the most advanced technology available.
And while Linhardt continues to develop more sophisticated detection systems to ensure a safer stream of drugs to the marketplace, he is also helping lead the race for a safer, man-made alternative to the traditional biologic heparin.
Linhardt and Jian Liu at the University of North Carolina discovered the “recipe” for synthetic heparin three years ago. In August 2008, at the national conference of the American Chemical Society, Linhardt announced that his team had constructed minuscule carbohydrates into a purer, safer alternative creating the first fully synthetic heparin, and the largest amount ever created in the laboratory.
With Linhardt’s discovery, a fully synthetic heparin can be created in a pharmaceutical manufacturing environment, giving drug manufacturers extreme control over the safety and purity of the product. He believes that within five years, it is possible that this drug could reach human clinical trials. He is currently working to scale up production of the new drug.
Visit Robert Linhardt’s Web site for additional information on his heparin research: www-heparin.rpi.edu/.
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