Human enzyme could neutralize nerve agents

U. SHEFFIELD (UK) — A new treatment tested in mice appears to neutralize the effects of chemicals that kill hundreds of thousands of people each year.

Organophosphorus agents (OP) 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.

Experts estimate about 200,000 people die each year across the world from OP poisoning, through occupational exposure, unintentional use and misuse, mostly in developing countries like India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and through deliberate terrorist activities.

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


Using a modified human enzyme, Mike Blackburn’ professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sheffield, collaborated with researchers from Russia and France to create a “bioscavenger,” which was found to protect mice against the nerve agent VR and showed no lasting effects.

In studies performed at the Institute of Bioorganic 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—about 63 mg—and all survived. Details are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This current publication describes a novel method to generate a bioscavenger for the Russian VR organophosphorus agent with the key property of being long-acting in the bloodstream,” Blackburn says.

Source: University of Sheffield