Biodesign Institute takes part in $14.4M NIH chemical defense grant

The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University has been awarded one of six research projects as part of a $14.4 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) effort to develop improved antidotes for civilian populations vulnerable to chemical agent poisoning by a terrorist attack.

The overall effort is dubbed the CounterACT (Countermeasures Against Chemical Threats) Center of Excellence. The program is led by David Lenz, PhD, of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense (USAMRICD).

Tsafrir Mor, a researcher at ASU's Biodesign Institute and assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences, will be the lead investigator of the five-year, $2.67 million ASU portion of the award.

"Nerve agents, such as sarin, are among the most lethal chemical weapons ever developed. They have been used in wars as recently as the 1980s and by terrorist organizations such as the subway attacks in Japan in the mid 1990s" said David Moore, DVM, PhD, Director, Strategic Research Program Development, USAMRICD, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. "The work of this new center will lead to a paradigm shift in how to treat nerve agent exposure."

Besides the terrorist threat, Biodesign's Mor points out that the active chemical ingredient contained in nerve agents, organophosphates, can be found in many pesticides, leading to the accidental death of an estimated one to two million individuals worldwide who don't properly handle pesticides.

Mor's project is based on two interlocking themes, one focused on the design of human enzymes with new activities to neutralize nerve agents and a second utilizing plants to express proteins of human origin in high quantities.

The project, "Rapid and Large Scale Plant-Derived Production of Catalytic Nerve-Agent Bioscavengers" is a natural progression of Mor's previous work that was supported by the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA)

"In our DARPA p

Contact: Researcher Tsafrir Mor
Arizona State University

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