Scientist’s cure for chemical poisoning

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SHEFFIELD University scientists have developed a treatment which could neutralise the effects of lethal chemicals responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

Organophosphorus ag-ents are used as pesticides in developing countries and poisoning is common because of insufficient control, poor storage, availability and inadequate education among farmers.

It is estimated about 200,000 people die each year across the world from such poisoning, through occupational exposure, unintentional use and misuse and through deliberate terrorist activities.

Countries such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the worst affected.

One of the best known agents is sarin, which has been used in several terrorist attacks. including one on the Tokyo underground system in 1995.

Using a modified human enzyme, Professor Mike Blackburn, a professor of chemical biology, has helped create a ‘bioscavenger’ which was found to protect mice against the nerve agent VR and showed no lasting effects.

He worked with a team of experts and carried out experiments at a centre in Russia.

In studies, a total of eight mice were treated with the new enzyme after being subjected to enough of the VR agent to kill several of the animals – and all survived.

Professor Blackburn said: “This is a novel method to generate a bioscavenger for the Russian VR organophosphorus agent with the key property of being long-acting in the bloodstream.”