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5/21/14 - NIH grant funds further public health research at MSU

New research at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine is producing nerve agent antidotes with more effectiveness than the ones currently in use.

Jan Chambers, director of the MSU-CVM Center for Environmental Health Sciences, and her colleagues have received grant funding through the National Institutes of Health to test six nerve agent antidotes that can be used by the military and public health agencies to protect civilians.

No actual nerve agents used in chemical warfare are being stored or used at MSU; instead, the researchers are using compounds that resemble the agents, so that they can safely conduct testing. Nerve agents have been used in modern warfare since World War II and their most recent use against civilians in Syria have proven they remain a dangerous threat around the world to both the military and the public.

Current antidotes save lives by restoring function to the nervous system after the nerve agent has already poisoned it. The antidotes act only on the muscles and glands, and cannot penetrate into the brain to stop damage at its source. Chambers and her team have identified antidote compounds that can enter the brain and work to stop the seizures and the brain damage that nerve agents cause.

"The antidotes currently used are enzyme reactivators. They don't pass the blood/brain barrier so they can't protect the brain. As a result, there is brain damage from the seizures," Chambers, a Giles Distinguished Professor, said. "The antidote compounds we have identified get directly to the brain to not only save lives but also prevent seizures and brain damage."

Chambers and her team will study the six antidotes that show promise over the next three years. They will test against four nerve agent-like poisons in an experimental model to come up with two that show the greatest efficacy and effectiveness.

The compounds in the research were first invented by Howard Chambers, a professor with MSU's Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, and are being tested in the Center for Environmental Health Sciences laboratory. The third faculty investigator is Russell Carr, who also works within the Center for Environmental Health Sciences. The laboratory has been recognized for its commitment to safety.

"We are thankful to have the NIH funding so we can focus on these antidotes that can eventually be made available to protect the public," Chambers said. "We are excited about what we will find during the span of this grant funding and look forward to collaborating with our MSU colleagues and taking the next steps."

This project is supported by the CounterACT Program, National Institutes of Health Office of the Director, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Grant Number 1U01NS083430.

Karen Templeton | College of Veterinary Medicine

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