Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Anthrax action shapes up

24.10.2001


Anthrax is under close scrutiny.
© AP/Fort Detrick, US Army


Washington’s Dirkin Senate Office gets a careful clean-up.
© AP/Kenneth Lambert


Researchers find two new leads for anti-anthrax drugs.

As fears over bioterrorism attacks spiral, researchers are making progress towards better anthrax drugs - but these are unlikely to reach the drugstore soon.

Of ten confirmed anthrax cases in the United States by Monday, four have been of the severe, inhaled form against which antibiotics often fail. By the time drugs destroy the bacteria responsible, Bacillus anthracis, the organisms have released enough lethal toxin to kill immune cells in the blood, causing fatal blood poisoning.



Two new discoveries lay the groundwork for drugs that could disable the toxin and, along with antibiotics, save lives.

John Young, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and his colleagues have pinpointed the protein, on the surface of human cells, which the anthrax toxin latches onto1. In the lab a synthetic version of this ’receptor’ mops up the poison and protects cells. "It serves as a decoy," Young explains.

Part of the toxin attaches to this receptor, punches a hole in the human cell membrane and injects another part, the ’lethal factor’, which destroys proteins in the cell. A second team, led by Robert Liddington of The Burnham Institute in La Jolla, California, have deduced the structure of this lethal factor2.

With a picture of how the toxin’s proteins attack cells, drug companies can search for chemicals that block their activity, the teams hope.

This promise is unlikely to be realized in time to help the current situation, Young and Liddington caution - most optimistic estimates are that improvements will be a year in the making. "We need to design drugs - not for this time round but for the next one," says Liddington.

Alternative medicine

The current crisis gives the hunt for effective treatments new urgency. What we have is no longer "state-of-the-art", says Richard Corlin, director of the American Medical Association in Chicago, Illinois. The latest work "will lead us to a better treatment", he agrees.

Excessive use of an existing antibiotic, ciprofloxacin, could create its own medical problems, Corlin warns. The drug destroys healthy bacteria in the body, so may leave people open to infection from other pathogens.

Overuse of antibiotics and failure to complete the 60-day course virtually "guarantee the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains" of these pathogenic bacteria, he says, making such infections difficult to treat.

Bioterrorists could potentially engineer antibiotic-resistant anthrax. Manufacturing bacteria able to withstand toxin-targeted drugs would be "almost impossible", says John Collier of Harvard Medical School, who contributed to both studies. It would require expert biochemical knowledge to alter specific protein shapes and interactions.

The anthrax vaccine is also problematic. Developed in the 1960s, it involves injecting a crude mix of the toxin’s protein components to stimulate resistance. Vaccination requires six shots and regular boosters. The vaccine is currently produced only in sufficient quantities for the US military.

Several groups are designing more effective versions using purified proteins, explains anthrax researcher Stephen Leppla of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Reseach in Bethesda, Maryland. These are easily administered and produce long-lasting immunity. "Before too long, we’ll have it," he predicts.

Ultimately, we need a whole new arsenal to fight anthrax, says Collier - a new antibiotic, a safe, efficient vaccine, and drugs against toxins. Realizing this goal requires further funding for research and fast-track approval of candidate drugs, he suggests.

Meanwhile most people agree that heightened awareness remains the best form of defence, catching early, cold-like symptoms in time for the disease to be treated. "The key thing is an appropriate degree of surveillance," says Corbin.

Spore show

Anthrax spores, the persistent, dormant form of the bacterium, can cause infection through the skin and intestine, but inhalation is the most dangerous - around 90% of cases result in death.

Turning anthrax into an effective bioweapon is technically difficult - spores must be milled down into a very fine powder (less than 5 micrometres in diameter) for them to reach the depths of the lungs in sufficient quantities to cause infection. A dose of around 10,000 spores is thought to cause a lethal infection.

Spores sent in letters to media and political organizations in the United States had produced ten confirmed cases by the end of Monday, including one death. The deaths of two more postal workers have been linked to the disease. The source of the letters has not yet been found, and the United States is offering a $1-million reward for information leading to the identification of those responsible.

References
  1. Bradley, K.A., Mogridge, J., Mourez, M., Collier, R.J. & Young, J.A.T. Identification of the cellular receptor for the anthrax toxin. Nature, (2001).

  2. Panniter, A. et al. Crystal structure of the anthrax lethal factor. Nature, (2001).


HELEN PEARSON | Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/011025/011025-9.html
http://www.nature.com/nsu/

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Hot cars can hit deadly temperatures in as little as one hour
24.05.2018 | Arizona State University

nachricht 3D images of cancer cells in the body: Medical physicists from Halle present new method
16.05.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>