Nanotools Designed for Surgical Recovery

Posted on 16 March 2011

Recent work published by Professor David Smith’s research group has reported new nano-systems which may eventually help patients recovering from surgery.

David Smith
Professor David Smith

There is no doubt that the skill of surgeons plays a remarkable role in transforming the lives of hospital patients – from seriously injured victims of road traffic accidents to the recipients of heart and lung transplants.  However, without the use of a range of different chemical drugs, surgeons would not be able to operate.  One important drug is heparin, which thins the blood and allows surgeons to operate without clotting taking place.  However, once surgery is finished, it is essential to remove the heparin and allow clotting to occur so the patient can recover.  This is currently done by giving the patient a second drug, protamine.  However, because protamine is a natural product arising from shellfish, some patients exhibit serious allergic responses.

In their recent work, published in Angewandte Chemie, the Smith group have developed synthetic molecules which are capable of binding heparin.  These molecules are designed to self-assemble into nanometre-sized structures with similar dimensions to protamine and containing multiple heparin binding units.  It was shown that these nanosystems could bind to heparin just as effectively as protamine.  ‘Clearly there is lots of fundamental work still to be done before clinical application,’ says Smith, ‘but we hope that this approach may eventually yield biocompatible and degradable heparin binders, which will help surgical recovery without any of the side effects which can be caused by protamine’.