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STARKVILLE, Miss.–Ever since World War II, nerve agents have been a concern in modern warfare and up until now, the only antidotes available acted after the agents damaged the nervous system. However, new research at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine may lead to the creation of an antidote that works before severe damage occurs.

Jan Chambers, director of the MSU-CVM Center for Environmental Health Sciences, and her colleagues have grant funding through the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency to develop nerve agent antidotes that can be used by DOD in cases of chemical warfare. 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.

Current antidotes act by restoring function to the nervous system after the nerve agent has already degraded it.

“There is the possibility that too much damage to the nervous system occurs before the antidote can reverse the damage and save the victim’s life,” Chambers, a Giles Distinguished Professor, said. “The antidote compounds we are developing would enhance the ability of a blood enzyme, called paraoxonase or PON, to degrade the nerve agents before they enter the nervous system.”

The antidote, being developed with Howard Chambers, professor in MSU’s Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology and Steven Gwaltney, professor in MSU’s Department of Chemistry, could save victims from the usual signs of nerve agent poisoning which include tremors, seizures, and respiratory collapse.

“Many of us have seen some of the devastating effects of the nerve agent, sarin, on television news reports on its recent use in Syria,” Chambers said. “These are the toxic reactions we are trying to prevent.”

Because many insecticides work in the same way that nerve agents do, the antidote being developed by the MSU research team may also be used in cases of insecticide poisoning.

The compounds used in the research were first invented by Dr. Howard Chambers and are being tested in the MSU-CVM Center for Environmental Health Sciences laboratory. The laboratory has been recognized for its safety and adherence to state and federal compliance regulations.

Currently, the research team is working through the patent approval process and is collecting more data.

“There is nothing currently available that acts in the same way as the antidote compounds we are researching,” Chambers said. “The process of making the compounds available for use will be a long one, but we look forward to the next steps and further collaboration across MSU and with other agencies.”

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