Article Text

Heparin
  1. M K DAVIES,
  2. A HOLLMAN

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    The joint theme for all European postal administrations in 1994 was inventions and discoveries. The two Europa stamps issued for this by Åland depict medical discoveries connected with the Åland Islands. The first stamp featured von Willebrand’s disease and its genetic linkage. The disease was common in Åland as the islands are quite isolated and intermarriages common. EA von Willebrand was head of the department of internal medicine at the Deaconess Hospital in Helsinki, and studied the disease in two large families in the Åland archipelago. The second stamp in the series commemorates the purification of heparin by Erik Jorpes and shows the antithrombin binding pentasaccharide sequence in the heparin molecule. The stamps were designed by Kurt Simons, an illustrator and designer from Bromma, Sweden. The first day of issue was 5 May 1994. Five hundred thousand of each denomination were printed in sheets of 40 and printed in four colour offset. The First Day Cover and special cancellation mark depicting drugs, medicine, and academic skills were also designed by the same artist.

    The discovery of heparin in 1916 resulted from the persistence and careful research of a preclinical medical student, Jay McLean, then aged 26. McLean was an orphan and had to work for three years in labouring jobs to save enough money to fulfill his ambition of entering Johns Hopkins medical school. Once accepted, and even though his aim was academic surgery, he asked to spend his first year in physiology where Dr William H Howell gave him the task of isolating a clotting factor from brain tissue. McLean achieved this and then, on his own, studied a liver extract. This also had a clotting factor but crucially McClean went on testing it for several weeks. He found that the thromboplastic action disappeared, and that a powerful anticoagulant factor was now present—this was heparin. Howell made a crude preparation of it, which led Charles Best in Toronto to work on the problem. His colleagues at the Connaught Laboratories, Arthur Charles and David Scott, found that beef lung was the best source and in 1935 Best and a surgeon, Gordon Murray, did clinical trials with that material.

    A Swedish chemist, Erik Jorpes (born on Kökar, Åland in 1894), then did fine work on the chemistry of the Toronto heparin, which was in fact different from that found by McClean and Howell, and he identified it as an acidic sulphated polysaccharide. Also in Sweden the pioneer cardiac surgeon, Clarence Craaford, had already operated with success on two patients with massive pulmonary embolism. Using material supplied by Jorpes he initiated a research programme in 1935 of using heparin to prevent postoperative thrombosis and embolism.

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