Heparin is a widely-used anti-coagulant and is currently produced through extraction from pig intestines – though this means that production can be impacted by external factors, such as the spread of swine flu.
Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration had to issue a statement that supplies of heparin were not impacted by African swine flu in China, though earlier this year The Lancet published an article suggesting that there were still concerns over supply.
As a result, researchers from the University of California San Diego stated that there is a need to “develop sustainable recombinant production,” further suggesting that they had made a ‘key discovery’ in this direction.
In particular, the researcher discovered that the gene ZNF263 is an active repressor of heparin biosynthesis throughout most cell types, while mast cells, which produce heparin, were enabled to produce the compound when the gene was suppressed.
This was managed by utilizing bioinformatic software to scan the genes encoding enzymes related to heparin production and then look for sequence elements that could be binding sites for transcription factors.
Due to this finding, the researchers suggested that cell lines currently used by industry, such as CHO cell lines, could be genetically modified to produce heparin in an industrial setting.
Further than this, researchers involved in the project stated that additional related gene regulators involved in heparin production had also been discovered and would form the basis of future studies.