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International unit (IU) — In pharmacology, the international unit is a unit of measurement for the amount of a substance; the mass or volume that constitutes one international unit varies based on which substance is being measured, and the variance is based on the biological activity or effect, for the purpose of easier comparison across substances. International units are used to quantify vitamins, hormones, some medications, vaccines, blood products, and similar biologically active substances. Many biological agents exist in different forms or preparations (e.g. vitamin A in the form of retinol or beta-carotene). The goal of the IU is to be able to compare these, so that different forms or preparations with the same biological effect will contain the same number of IUs. To do so, the WHO Expert Committee on Biological Standardization provides a reference preparation of the agent, arbitrarily sets the number of IUs contained in that preparation, and specifies a biological procedure to compare other preparations of the same agent to the reference preparation. Since the number of IUs contained in a new substance is arbitrarily set, there is no equivalence between IU measurements of different biological agents. For instance, one IU of vitamin E cannot be equated with one IU of vitamin A in any way, including mass or efficacy. Despite its name, IU is not part of the International System of Units used in physics and chemistry. The IU should not be confused with the enzyme unit, also known as the international unit of enzyme activity and abbreviated as U.
International unit (IU) — Internationally agreed-upon standards are necessary to compare the potency of various biologically assayed compounds in terms of their activity. If it is not possible to purify chemically the substance to be bioassayed, a stable standard solution has to be employed for comparison. Standards for sera are held at the State Serum Institute, Copenhagen, the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill, UK. and by the WHO. An International Unit is defined as a particular quantity of the standard preparation (one IU of tetanus antitoxin is 0.1547 mg of a preparation held in Copenhagen).
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