Ground-breaking trial tackles breathing with COVID

01 Oct 2020

THE COVID-19 pandemic has seen some rapid and rigid changes to the way we live – statewide lockdowns, temperature testing to enter supermarkets, schools and hospitals, a new norm of physical distancing and now, the mandatory wearing of masks in public.

As the escalating health crisis casts a shadow of concern over the community, medical teams around the world are working tirelessly to manage the deadly virus and find a cure.

A world-first clinical trial led by St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne (SVHM) is using Heparin (a blood-thinning medication) to help improve breathing in critical-care COVID-19 patients.

Paving the way

Dr Barry Dixon, an Intensivist at SVHM’s Intensive Care Unit, is in charge of the global trial which will study how Heparin can address the damaging effects the coronavirus has on a person’s lungs by focusing on one of the virus’s lesser-known symptoms – blood clots.

Rather than injecting Heparin to prevent blood clots in the body – primarily in the lungs and legs – this trial administers it as an inhaled gas to treat COVID-19 patients on ventilators.

“We did a study before COVID-19 in patients with lung injury and pneumonia – similar to COVID-19 patients – and that study found that giving people inhaled Heparin accelerated their recovery,” Dr Dixon says.

“We were able to show they had less lung injury, we were able to show they were less likely to get a condition called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), and we were able to show that survivors were able to get home sooner.”

Blood clots can damage the lining of the lungs and cause fluid to leak into them as well. Both these issues will restrict the ability to breathe, which is one of the primary concerns in critical-care COVID-19 patients.

“The thing about Heparin is it also binds with COVID-19 and so we think it inactivates COVID-19 as well,” Dr Dixon says.

Road to recovery

As our medical staff rally to face a second wave of the illness in the community Dr Dixon is quietly confident they are better prepared.

“No doubt managing patients with COVID-19 helps you understand how best to treat people,” he says.

Already, therapies found to be successful through other overseas studies are now being used to treat patients more locally.

The St Vincent’s-led COVID-19 Heparin Clinical Trial hopes to provide another form of active treatment in the medical arsenal being developed to head-off the debilitating effects of this condition.

Since the trial’s launch in April 2020, 10 patients have been enrolled.

Dr Dixon says eventually there will be about 206 patients involved in the trial. Patients from hospitals including Galway, Barcelona and Liverpool have also come on board and other sites for the trial are currently being explored.


St Vincent's Foundation
Ground floor
Rear, 55 Victoria Parade
Fitzroy, Victoria 3065