Dr. David S. Janowsky says he has a strong candidate drug that might prevent many deaths from an attack.
Studies he and colleagues published 16 years ago suggest scopolamine, a drug already routinely used to combat motion sickness, could be a significant improvement over the standard treatment, atropine, in treating civilians and military personnel exposed to toxic nerve agents.
Janowsky is professor and former chair of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine and former director of the Center for Alcohol Studies. A report on his previous experiments and his views appeared in the Lancet, a widely read British medical journal in late January.
Standard treatment for nerve agent poisoning includes supportive measures combined with atropine and a compound called pralidoxime, Janowsky said. In animals, however, atropines effectiveness in treating high doses of nerve agents is doubtful because atropine has only weak effects on the central nervous system and it is in the brain that high doses of nerve agents cause death due to convulsions. Atropine is unlikely to work any better in human beings for the same reason.
The earlier experiments involved laboratory mice. When exposed to varying concentrations of physostigmine, a potent chemical affecting nerve function, significantly more mice survived if they were given scopolamone alone or that compound plus methscopolamine than if they received atropine, he said.
For example, 90 percent of mice exposed to 2.25 milligrams of physostigmine per kilogram of body weight survived if they were treated with 0.2 milligrams of scopolamine per kilogram of body weight, compared with only 18 percent of exposed
Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill