Hopes of way to neutralise poisons

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A NEW treatment which could neutralise the effects of lethal chemicals responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people across the world has been developed by a scientist from Yorkshire.

The work of an academic at Sheffield University is looking to combat the effects of organophosphorus agents (OP) which kill around 200,000 people a year across the world through occupational exposure, misuse and terrorist attacks.

Organophosphorus agents are used as pesticides in developing countries and acute poisoning is common because of insufficient control, poor storage, ready availability, and inadequate education amongst farmers.

Many of the deaths through occupational exposure, unintentional use and misuse take place in “developing countries like India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka” according to the university.

OPs include compounds like Tabun, which was developed in 1936 by German scientists during the Second World War, Sarin, Soman, Cyclosarin, VX and VR.

Professor Mike Blackburn from Sheffield University’s Department of Biomedical Sciences has worked with experts from the Shemyakin-Ovchinnikov Institute in Moscow,and the Département de Toxicologie, Centre de Recherches du Service de Santé des Armées, to create a “bioscavenger” which was found to protect mice against the nerve agent VR and showed no lasting side effects.

In studies performed at the Institute of Bio-organic Chemistry in Pushchino, Russia, 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.

Prof Blackburn said the research had produced “a novel method to generate a bioscavenger for the Russian VR organophosphorus agent with the key property of being long-acting in the bloodstream”.

The research has been published in the journal PNAS.