What's fishy about protamine? Clinical use, adverse reactions, and potential alternatives.

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Protamine, a highly basic protein isolated from salmon sperm, is the only clinically available agent to reverse the anticoagulation of unfractionated heparin. Following intravenous administration, protamine binds to heparin in a nonspecific electrostatic interaction to reverse its anticoagulant effects. In clinical use, protamine is routinely administered to reverse high-dose heparin anticoagulation in cardiovascular procedures, including cardiac surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass. Despite the lack of supportive evidence regarding protamine's effectiveness to reverse low-molecular-weight heparin, it is recommended in guidelines with low-quality evidence. Different dosing strategies have been reported for reversing heparin in cardiac surgical patients based on empiric dosing, pharmacokinetics, or point-of-care measurements of heparin levels. Protamine administration is associated with a spectrum of adverse reactions that range from vasodilation to life-threatening cardiopulmonary dysfunction and shock. The life-threatening responses appear to be hypersensitivity reactions due to immunoglobulin E and/or immunoglobulin G antibodies. However, protamine and heparin-protamine complexes can activate complement inflammatory pathways and inhibit other coagulation factors. Although alternative agents for reversing heparin are not currently available for clinical use, additional research continues evaluating novel therapeutic approaches.





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Levy, Jerrold H, Kamrouz Ghadimi, Jayachandran N Kizhakkedathu and Toshiaki Iba (2023). What's fishy about protamine? Clinical use, adverse reactions, and potential alternatives. Journal of thrombosis and haemostasis : JTH, 21(7). pp. 1714–1723. 10.1016/j.jtha.2023.04.005 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/29711.

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Jerrold Henry Levy

Professor of Anesthesiology

Jerrold Levy is Professor of Anesthesiology, Critical Care, and Surgery (Cardiothoracic) at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC. He obtained his medical degree from the University of Miami, where he was an intern in internal medicine, and undertook his residency in the Department of Anesthesiology of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, where he was also Chief Resident, and completed fellowships in both Respiratory ICU and Cardiac Anesthesiology.  He previously was Professor, Deputy Chair for Research, and Chief of Cardiothoracic Anesthesiology at Emory University School of Medicine. His clinical and research interests include anticoagulation and its reversal, therapeutic strategies to prevent and treat coagulopathy and acute inflammatory responses in critically ill patients, clinical applications of recombinant and purified protein concentrates to treat bleeding, and pharmacologic approaches to treat shock.  He is currently Chair of the Subcommittee on Perioperative and Critical Care Thrombosis and Hemostasis for the International Society of Thrombosis and Hemostasis, Executive Editor of Anesthesiology, and consultant to the FDA‘s Biologic Products Advisory Committee.  He is the author of over 450 publications on PubMED, with over 100,000 citations on Google Scholar and a h-index of 95. He is also fluent in French and conversational in Spanish and Japanese.


Kamrouz Ghadimi

Associate Professor of Anesthesiology

Dr. Ghadimi is a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist, intensivist (ICU doctor), researcher, educator, and director of the clinical research unit in the Department of Anesthesiology at Duke Health. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts, book chapters, online reviews, and editorials. His expertise involves the perioperative and intensive care management of patients undergoing cardiac and noncardiac surgery, with a special focus on the treatment of bleeding and inflammation related to shock and mechanical circulatory support and on the modification of pulmonary circulation to optimize end-organ blood flow.

Clinical Education
Dr. Ghadimi is a medical school graduate of Boston University School of Medicine, completed his internship in general surgery at the University of California Irvine Medical Center and Long Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center and completed clinical anesthesiology residency at the Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He completed advanced clinical fellowship specialization in adult Critical Care Medicine (surgical focus) and Cardiothoracic Anesthesiology at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Dr. Ghadimi's expertise and instruction spans across the cardiothoracic operating rooms and cardiothoracic surgical ICU environments. His expertise includes perioperative hemostasis & thrombosis, critical care of the heart or lung transplant recipient, and critical care for the patient on mechanical circulatory support, which may include extracorporeal life support (ECMO) or ventricular assist devices/systems.

Research Education
Dr. Ghadimi is a clinical and translational researcher and holds a Master in Health Sciences (M.H.Sc.) from the Duke-NIH Clinical Research Training Program. 

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