Iowa City chemist wins national award for drug research

Robert J. Linhardt of Iowa City, Iowa, will be honored March 25 by the world's largest scientific society for his achievements in understanding and improving pharmaceuticals based on carbohydrates, in particular the clot inhibitor heparin. He will receive the 2003 Claude S. Hudson Award in Carbohydrate Chemistry from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in New Orleans.

"Carbohydrates have a lot of unique properties," said Linhardt, a professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at the University of Iowa. "In addition to being important to diet, they're also necessary whenever cells communicate with each other, for example. So they can make very powerful drugs, and heparin is one of them."

Researchers discovered heparin in 1916, learning the body produced it naturally to provide a slick lining for blood vessels. It's used today to keep blood flowing through artificial kidney and heart machines and to inhibit growth of blood clots in patients at risk for heart attack or stroke.

Heparin piqued Linhardt's interest 20 years ago as "an unsolved mystery of nature," he said. The drug is not one carbohydrate but a collection of millions, and researchers knew little about their specific structures, activities and roles in the body. He decided to study them and, by doing so, try to make a simpler, more selective version of the drug in the laboratory.

With his multidisciplinary team of carbohydrate chemists, biologists, medicinal chemists and pharmacologists, Linhardt eventually discovered one of what is now known as low-molecular-weight heparins. It is among the five such products currently prescribed by doctors.

"Low-molecular-weight heparins are a little more selective, but the real advantage is their cost efficiency," he said. Because they can be administered as daily shots rather than constantly dripped through a patient's IV solution, "they save hospital costs and keep a person functional."

Linhardt is no

Contact: Allison Byrum
American Chemical Society

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