My Work as a USP Volunteer: How the Heparin “Dream Team” Brought Hope to A Friend
Dr. Wesley (Wes) Workman is a USP Volunteer and Chair, General Chapters–Biological Analysis Expert Committee
Did you know there is a group of scientists who regularly meet to discuss a wide range of topics that impact the quality of the pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, herbal medicines, and food?
I am fortunate to be a member of this group, the volunteers who make up the United States Pharmacopiea (USP) Expert Committees. I am a pharmaceutical scientist that specializes in the analysis of biological drugs (e.g., proteins, enzymes, carbohydrates, DNA). It was early in my career when I first became a scientific volunteer for the USP. I remember one of our first meetings was to discuss the quality of a pharmaceutical protein, recombinant human growth hormone.
At that meeting I looked around the table at all the experts who were legends in my scientific field. I was overwhelmed and wondered how I could have been chosen to join this group of renowned scientists. I later asked my USP contact how I was chosen to be a member of such a remarkable group. I was told that to insure a pool of expert leaders for the future the USP chooses some young scientists as volunteers so the USP can have a role in developing them into future volunteer leaders for the USP. In my case the USP strategy worked.
When I first joined the USP as a volunteer in 1992 I had no idea that I would have the USP role I have today as an Expert Committee Chairperson and member of the volunteer USP Council of Experts. Over the years I have had many volunteer leadership roles with the USP, but one that stands out was my work with the USP Heparin Expert Panel.
In 2007 adulterated heparin entered the heparin supply chain in the USA. There were several deaths associated with the contaminated heparin and the FDA asked the USP to partner with them to put quality standards and testing procedures in place to control the situation. Again, I found myself as a member of a group of volunteer heparin scientists from industry, academia, and FDA who were the biggest names in this field, and I was the chairperson of this group.
Working with this group was surreal, the “dream team” of the heparin world. We were successful in delivering our mission – putting in place standards and testing procedures the public could count on to insure the supply of heparin they were receiving was safe and of high quality. Our heparin team was the first recipient of the USP award for “Innovative Response to a Public Health Challenge”. But my role with the USP became very real for me one day when I was telling a friend about what I do at the USP and with heparin.
My friend told me that he recently finished cancer treatment in the hospital and his arterial line was kept clear with heparin. He thanked me for my volunteer work with the USP because it had a direct impact on his life and safety. As I looked at my friend standing there my work became something more than the heparin powder I worked with at the laboratory bench or wrote about in papers. The heparin my friend put into his body was part of me and my work as a USP volunteer. This story is not uncommon among USP volunteers. Most USP volunteers touch the lives of people daily through their work to insure a high quality supply of pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, herbal medicines, and food.