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Researchers get $7.5M grant to combat nerve agents

op the deadly chemicals before they can attach in the first place. They have engineered souped-up versions of naturally occurring human enzymes that will scavenge nerve agents from the bloodstream. No tests involving actual nerve agents will take place at Ohio State.

"Nerve agents like sarin, and even related pesticides, are a significant threat in the hands of terrorists, and we're really lacking in ways to treat mass casualties," said Magliery, co-leader of the new Ohio State center. "Fortunately, there are enzymes already in human blood that can deactivate these agents. We just have to engineer them to be more efficient, and we have to be able to produce and formulate them as drugs."

Hadad leads an effort to model the chemical structure of candidate enzymes on the powerful parallel supercomputer systems at OSC, while Magliery is producing synthetic versions of the new enzymes for further testing and preclinical evaluation by the Army.

"The preliminary results from the first round of this grant showed that these enzymes can be engineered to have enough activity to use as therapeutic agents," said Magliery. "But there are still challenges ahead. There are a lot of related agents, and there are few enzymes used as drugs today."

Hadad outlined one of the main challenges. "In nature, each enzyme generally has only one function one thing that it does very well," he said. "But we need an enzyme that will deactivate many different nerve agents.

"We need one molecule that can do it all."

Magliery added that the ideal enzyme would remain active for days or weeks at a time, pulling toxic agents from the body over and over again. It could be administered as an antidote immediately after an attack, or as an inoculation against future attacks.

Soldiers and first responders are among the likely recipients of such a preventive dose, but so are people whose jobs regularly expose them to nerve agents, eve

Contact: Mr. Jamie Abel
Ohio Supercomputer Center

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