Thursday, February 21, 2008

Heparin history

I found this article (A1) and the accompanying pictures quite interesting from a biological standpoint, if not political or otherwise. The two media detail how China goes about producing its half of the world's heparin. The process, briefly, involves

  • "wring[ing] pulp from pig intestines, then heat[ing] it in concrete vats." This sounds quite gross; in most Chinese factories, it is. (That, by the way, is part of the concern about the lack of regulation in those same factories; four Americans have reportedly died due to faulty or contaminated heparin from China.)
  • Next, adding resin "to extract heparin from the pulp."
  • Then, adding salt water to separate the resin-heparin mixture, which leads to a salt-water-heparin solution.
  • Finally, adding alcohol to remove the salt water. Then, since alcohol is more volatile, it is dried carefully...voila! Raw heparin!
Why are we concerned about this? Answer: likely due to lax regulation, intestines used may contain pathogens for such porcine maladies as blue-ear disease. Those several rinsings described above are geared toward removing as many bacteria, viruses, and other microbes as possible, but as far as keeping track of individual pigs, forget it. Why? "[S]laughterhouse records aren't detailed enough."

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