A device that could detect the earliest signs of exposure to deadly chemical warfare agents is being developed by researchers in Augusta and Boston.
The earliest sign of exposure to agents such as sarin and soman words that were foreign to many Americans pre-Sept. 11 are the seemingly innocent contractions of small groups of muscles, like an eye twitch, the researchers says.
They are pooling their knowledge about central nervous system toxins and the electromyogram, or EMG, that records the electrical activity of muscles, to develop an early detection device that may one day be worn by soldiers and rescue workers at risk; it may have applications as well for crop dusters, farmers and others who work around insecticides, similar, albeit less lethal, versions of these compounds called organophosphates.
"Chemical warfare agents kill by disrupting normal communication between nerves and muscles so that muscles can no longer relax," said Dr. Jerry J. Buccafusco, pharmacologist at the Medical College of Georgia. "The diaphragm muscles stop contracting so you can't breathe. The drugs get into your brain and
your involuntary respiratory drive center which makes you breathe while you sleep goes into spasm. On top on that, you are going to have copious secretions because the cholinergic system (key to the nerve-muscle interaction that enables breathing) also is involved in secretions and sweating. So you drown in your own secretions, unable to breathe."
But at the earliest sign of confused communication between the brain and the nerves and muscles it controls, soldiers and others in close proximity might still be saved; Dr. Buccafusco and Dr. Carlo De Luca, a biomedical engineer at Boston University, want to maximize that chance.
"We believe we will see changes in the EMG signal that will be indicative of organophosphates in the body before they begin to do serious damage inside the body," Dr. De Luca said. "We have high h
Contact: Toni Baker
Medical College of Georgia