Canadian researchers study inexpensive blood thinner as potential treatment for life threatening infection

October 29, 2008

A new Canadian research study is the first to examine whether heparin – a natural inexpensive blood thinner used for nearly 50 years – may also be useful in treating septic shock. Septic shock can occur when an infection spreads throughout the body. It kills millions each year, but the only drug proven to work is prohibitively expensive in many areas of the world.

Dr. Ryan Zarychanski and Dr. Anand Kumar led a team from Ottawa and Winnipeg that analyzed the medical records of several thousand patients treated for septic shock in the intensive care unit. They used a statistical technique to match patients who received heparin with similar patients who didn’t. The results, published in the November 2008 edition of Critical Care Medicine, showed that heparin use was associated with a 19 per cent lower risk of death among the sickest patients.

“A number of laboratory studies have suggested that heparin might have anti-inflammatory properties that could help in treating septic shock, but our study is the first to examine this in humans,” said Dr. Zarychanski, a critical care physician affiliated with The Ottawa Hospital, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, the University of Ottawa and CancerCare Manitoba.

“A randomized clinical trial is needed before we can make any definitive statements about heparin in septic shock, but this study is an important first step,” said Dr. Anand Kumar, a critical care physician affiliated with the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre, CancerCare Manitoba and the University of Manitoba.

“Currently there is no incentive for industry to study an old drug like heparin, but as academic researchers, it behooves us to do so, especially in cases like this where the potential benefits could be realized on a global scale,” said Dr. Zarychanski. “We hope to expand this research program and conduct a large clinical trial in the near future.”

The study was funded by the Critical Care Medicine Program at the University of Manitoba and the Health Sciences Centre Foundation.

Media contacts
Jennifer Paterson
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Phone: 613-798-5555 x 19691

Roberta Koscielny
Director, Communications and Public Affairs
CancerCare Manitoba
Phone: 204-787-4540

About the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and is an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, closely associated with the University’s Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences. The OHRI includes more than 1,300 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and staff conducting research to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease.