Supercomputer helps develop antidote to lethal chemicalsThe antidote regenerates a critical enzyme in the human body that "ages" after a person is exposed to deadly chemical warfare agents
By Doug Page
University researchers are closing in on a new drug that's intended to protect civilian and military populations from exposure to lethal chemicals, including organophosphorus nerve agents.
The antidote regenerates a critical enzyme in the human body that "ages" after a person is exposed to deadly chemical warfare agents, explained Ohio State University chemist Christopher Hadad. Exposure to organophosphorus compounds can occur from pesticides used in crop protection, as well as targeted exposure by terrorist attack.
"If successful, we will have an antidote as a pharmaceutical drug that can mitigate the effects of organophosphorus exposure, while limiting the exposed individual to any symptoms of exposure," Hadad told Homeland1.
Hadad's drug would be a major development in terrorism response and mitigation. The release by terrorists of nerve agents such as tabun, sarin, soman, VX and cyclosarin remains a threat.
One of the most widely publicized uses of nerve agents was the 1995 terrorist attack in which zealots belonging to the Aum Shinrikyo cult released sarin into the Tokyo subway system. Thirteen people died, 50 were severely injured, and hundreds of others were hospitalized with temporary vision problems.
Left untreated, nerve agents cause profuse uncontrolled secretions, convulsions, and involuntary urination and defecation. Eventual death by asphyxiation can result as control is lost over respiratory muscles. Hadad's work, which is in its early stages, is in partnership with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
Other treatments for use against nerve agent exposure exist, but they don't always work because of the short time frame required for effective treatment. Atropine and related anticholinergic drugs act as antidotes to nerve agent poisoning, but they themselves can be poisonous.
In other work, Army scientists are using genetically modified goats that produce a drug in their milk that protects against the effects of nerve agents.
Hadad isn't using goats. He's using the resources of the Ohio Supercomputer Center to work out a molecular fix that could make treatment more effective. He believes a computational chemistry approach could lead to the development of a viable drug that has better chances of success.
The Ohio Supercomputer Center's flagship system, the Glenn IBM 1350 Opteron cluster, was built to help meet the needs of bioscience researchers like Hadad.