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Fast-acting Cyanide Antidote Discovered

Date:
January 1, 2008
Source:
University of Minnesota
Summary:
Researchers have discovered a new fast-acting antidote to cyanide poisoning. The antidote has potential to save lives of those who are exposed to the chemical -- namely firefighters, industrial workers and victims of terrorist attacks.

A tailings pond containing cyanide-laden wastes covers acres at a gold mine near Elko, Nevada. Cyanide poisoning is a risk for anyone who is exposed to the chemical. A new antidote that can be taken orally and works in less than three minutes is particularly important for industrial workers, firefighters and victims of terrorism, who might receive large doses of the chemical.
Credit: Gary Mowad, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

University of Minnesota Center for Drug Design and Minneapolis VA Medical Center researchers have discovered a new fast-acting antidote to cyanide poisoning. The antidote has potential to save lives of those who are exposed to the chemical -- namely firefighters, industrial workers, and victims of terrorist attacks.

Current cyanide antidotes work slowly and are ineffective when administered after a certain point, said Steven Patterson, Ph.D., principal investigator and associate director of the University of the Minnesota Center for Drug Design.

Patterson is developing an antidote that was discovered by retired University of Minnesota Professor Herbert Nagasawa. This antidote works in less than three minutes -- meeting the United States Department of Defense "three minute solution" standard.

"It's much, much faster than current antidotes," Patterson said. "The antidote is also effective over a wider time window. Giving emergency responders more time is important because it's not likely that someone will be exposed to cyanide near a paramedic."

The antidote was tested on animals and has been exceptionally effective, Patterson said. Researchers hope to begin human clinical trials during the next three years.

The antidote is also unique because it can be taken orally (current antidotes must be given intravenously) and may be administered up to an hour prior to cyanide exposure.

Cyanide is a rapid acting toxin that inhibits cellular respiration -- it prevents the body from using oxygen. This means it rapidly shuts down many of the fundamental biochemical processes the body needs to survive. Symptoms of acute cyanide poisoning include headache, vertigo, lack of motor coordination, weak pulse, abnormal heartbeat, vomiting, stupor, convulsions, coma, and even death.

When released in an enclosed area, cyanide can be particularly deadly and impact a victim very quickly. Survivors of cyanide poisoning are also at risk of short-term memory loss and development of a Parkinson's-like syndrome.

Because cyanide occurs naturally in pitted fruits, some grasses and other foods, and the body has mechanisms to detoxify small amounts in the diet. The new antidote takes advantage of this natural detoxification pathway by providing the substance the body naturally uses to convert cyanide to non-toxic thiocyanate.

The research will be featured in the Dec. 27, 2007 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

The theory and proof of concept for the research originated from Nagasawa, who has since retired from the University of Minnesota, but Patterson continues this work at the Center for Drug Design.

The study is being funded by a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Minnesota. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Minnesota. "Fast-acting Cyanide Antidote Discovered." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 January 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071227183912.htm>.
University of Minnesota. (2008, January 1). Fast-acting Cyanide Antidote Discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071227183912.htm
University of Minnesota. "Fast-acting Cyanide Antidote Discovered." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071227183912.htm (accessed August 1, 2014).

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