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Alzheimer's medication shows promise in treating nerve agent and pesticide poisoning

A medication used to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease can be used to protect people against the toxic effects of nerve agents and certain insecticides, according to a study led by researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The findings, published this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide the basis for further development of a safe and effective treatment to protect people exposed to organophosphorus compounds, including nerve agents that have been used in chemical warfare and terrorist attacks, as well as pesticides used in households and on farms worldwide.

"Nerve agents, such as soman and sarin, are among the most lethal chemical weapons ever developed. They have been used with catastrophic results in wars and terrorist attacks, such as the subway attacks with sarin in Japan in the late 1990s," says Edson X. Albuquerque, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of

Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and principal investigator on the study. "The possibility of further terrorist attacks with nerve agents and the escalating use of organophosphorus insecticides underscore the urgent need to develop effective and safe antidotes against poisoning with these compounds."

The study found that galantamine, a drug originally extracted from snowdrop flowers currently approved to treat Alzheimer's disease, could be used as an antidotal therapy to counteract the lethal effects of even the most deadly organophosphorus compounds.

"The only medication currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent the catastrophic effects of nerve agent poisoning does not protect the brain," says Dr. Albuquerque. "This medication, pyridostigmine, doesn't effectively cross the blood-brain barrier."

Most animals treated with pyridostigmine and exposed to toxic doses of nerve agents survive when
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Contact: Rebecca Ceraul
rceraul@som.umaryland.edu
410-706-7590
University of Maryland Medical Center
7-Aug-2006


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