History: The discovery and development of heparin


Intravenous literature: Norman, R. (2011) Skill, drive and luck: the discovery and development of heparin. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 183(18), p.2139-2140.


As the CMAJ celebrates its centenary it is worth remembering that another fixture of the medical landscape will also soon turn 100. Heparin, one of the oldest drugs still in clinical use, remains ubiquitous in medical care today. As the first safe and effective anticoagulant, heparin was transformative. Pulmonary embolism, previously a feared killer, became treatable. Two celebrated medical technologies, renal dialysis and the heart-lung machine, owe their existence to heparin, as neither would be possible without anticoagulation. Heparin and its derivatives also continue to play a key role in the management of venous thromboembolic disease and myocardial infarction. The story of heparin begins with William Henry Howell. Born in Baltimore, Maryland he pursued undergraduate and graduate studies at the newly formed Johns Hopkins University.

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