It might sound like something out of a classic spy thriller, but University of Minnesota researchers are working on a new antidote for one of history’s most lethal chemical agents: cyanide.
As it turns out, our national defenses against the chemical are in need of an upgrade, and University of Minnesota drug design researchers may be just the folks to design one.
Cyanide is best known for its quick and effective potential to kill. The ability to administer cyanide in a crystalline or gas form makes the chemical challenging to combat and a likely agent to be used in a terrorist attack or other mass casualty event. In fact, the United States Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) has recognized cyanide as a “probable” agent for future use by terrorists.
Steven E. Patterson, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Minnesota Center for Drug Design (CDD) have been searching for a way to plug the holes in our national defenses against a cyanide attack through a grant from the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
In their most recent findings, published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, University researchers unveil a new substance, sulfanegen TEA, which could prove the key ingredient for an improved cyanide antidote.
Sulfanegen TEA could potentially be administered quickly and effectively to a large number of people during an emergency event. Sulfanegen TEA’s effectiveness builds upon previous generations of sulfanegen known as sulfanegen ethyl and sulfanegen sodium.
The antidote would not require intravenous injection from a highly trained paramedic like today’s more common cyanide antidotes. Someone with less training might be able to administer sulfanegen TEA via an intra-muscular injection, similar to an allergy medication pen or AtroPen.
The ease of application could mean saving more lives in the face of a fast-acting chemical poison.
“Cyanide acts rapidly to cause dizziness, loss of muscular coordination and seizures,” said Patterson. “Self-administration for preventative purposes might be a possibility with a sulfanegen TEA intra-muscular injection. Although, the help of someone else would likely be needed after the effects of cyanide poisoning set in, but we think we can save valuable time with a solution like the one we’ve developed.”