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WWII discovery may counter bioterrorists

FORT WAYNE, Indiana - A compound developed by British scientists early in World War II as a treatment against chemical weapons has value against today's threat of bioterrorism, according to Indiana University School of Medicine researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Researchers studying British Anti-Lewisite provide an overview of its historical uses, development and clinical implications today of the heavy metal chelating agent, detailed in the March issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine. BAL is a medical therapy to remove metal poisonings from the body.

"BAL was secretly developed more than six decades ago by biochemists at Oxford University and is still stocked in many hospital pharmacies and used occasionally by emergency physicians," says article co-author Joel A. Vilensky, Ph.D., professor of anatomy at the School's Fort Wayne Center for Medical Education.

Kent L. Redman, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, co-authored the study with Dr. Vilensky.

"The possible threat of terrorism gives this World War II discovery renewed significance among emergency physicians because it is a treatment for Lewisite, a chemical warfare agent that produces immediate pain and blistering on contact and can cause blindness if it gets into the eyes," Dr. Vilensky notes. "Lewisite is a threat because it is easy for any country to manufacture with simple pesticide-manufacturing technology." Iraq is believed to have used Lewisite in its earlier war with Iran.

Developed for use during World War I, Lewisite is an arsenic-based liquid chemical compound that, similar to mustard, is easily vaporized into a poison gas and is capable of penetrating ordinary clothing and rubber. When inhaled in high concentrations, it may be fatal in as few as 10 minutes.

Fear of German use of Lewisite led British scientists at the beginning of World War II to develop an antidote, 2,3
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Contact: Joe Stuteville
jstutevi@iupui.edu
317-274-7722
Indiana University
27-Feb-2003


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