NIH Grants Funding for Scientist’s Heparin-Induced Thrombocytopenia Biomarker Research

According to a publication on EurekAlert, the National Institutes of Health recently awarded Dr. Jason Karnes, PharmD, PhD (and assistant professor in the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy) with a $769,000 K01 career development grant to investigate potential biomarkers for heparin-induced thrombocytopenia.

About Heparin-Induced Thrombocytopenia

Heparin, commonly called a “blood thinner” (despite not thinning the blood), is an anticoagulant used to limit the growth and inhibit the formation of harmful blood clots in the bloodstream. Although it can’t destroy extant clots, the medication is highly effective at preventing their formation – its use is heavily relied upon to prevent clotting in intensive operations, including open-heart surgeries.

However, a small number of individuals experience severe adverse reactions to the drug – which can involve the formation of life-threatening blood clots or development of a condition called heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT). HIT is a relatively common but serious adverse reaction to heparin experienced by about 2.5% of the some 12 million individuals that receive it every year.

Thrombocytopenia is a condition characterized by low blood platelet count. Cases can range in severity, from mild to life-threatening. Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia can be particularly aggressive, with mortality rates exceeding 30%. Despite the obvious risks, and continued concern from medical professionals, no clinical tool currently exists that can predict a patient’s reaction to the drug before its administration.

Researching Potential Biomarkers

Biomarkers are biological molecules that can be used to predict the presence of certain conditions or diseases. For conditions like HIT, biomarkers can be especially valuable tools – adverse reactions to medication might be avoided outright with the appropriate clinical tools.

Dr. Karnes’ study to identify potential biomarkers for HIT will start with a review of samples collected from over 5,000 patients located all over the world. His team will attempt to identify genetic red flags that might identify individuals likely to develop adverse reactions.

Following that, 100 patients are to be enrolled. Dr. Karnes and his team will then read their RNA profiles for “signatures” that might signal development of the condition. Research into such signatures could provide a better understanding to the origins of HIT.

Since the effects of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia can be so destructive, an effective means of predicting its occurrence is of particular concern to physicians, surgeons, and patients especially.


Prevention is often the best form of treatment for any medical condition. Do you think we should have better predictors of adverse reactions to commonly administered medications? Patient Worthy wants to hear from you!

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