Thursday, 27 March 2014

Accidental Blockbusters: Warfarin

“Of course, that’s how life is. A turn of events may seem very small at the time it’s happening, but you never really know, do you?” Tom Xavier

Warfarin is an anticoagulant currently prescribed to prevent blood clots. However it was originally introduced to the consumer world as a rat poison due to its haemorrhaging abilities.

In the early 1920’s a bizarre number of cattle in the US kept spontaneously bleeding profusely. Food sources in the area were scarce and so the cattle were being left to eat the damp, mouldy hay that was no good to anyone else. A Canadian vet twigged that the link between all of these haemorrhaging cattle was that they had consumed this unsuitable hay, and discovered that by removing the hay from the cattle’s diet, they returned to full health.

Thirty years later, the compound in the mouldy hay was finally characterised and was launched into the US market as a rat poison, proving an instant success. However a US soldier, unsuccessfully, tried to commit suicide by overdosing on this new toxin. Having been rushed to hospital, he was treated with vitamin K, the antidote, and made a full recovery, yet this started an investigation into the potential therapeutic use of the poison. And three years later, it was approved for use as an anticoagulant, with one of its first recipients being the US president at the time; Dwight D. Eisenhower.

One conspiracy theory, highlighting the dangers of warfarin and the complexity of its dosing regimen, suggests that Stalin was murdered using warfarin. As warfarin is tasteless and odourless, making it such a good rat poison, Stalin could have easily consumed it without knowing so, and he exhibited many of the symptoms commonly found in a warfarin overdose when he died.

This post was written by Graduate Research Exec Becky Geffen.
For more weird and wonderful pharamcetuical facts follow us on: @brandingscience

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