A researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing was awarded a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health Countermeasures Against Chemical Threats to find an antidote to Phosgene oxime, or CX, one of the deadliest chemical agents ever manufactured.
CX is categorized with blistering agents like mustard gas and causes serious allergic reactions that rapidly incapacitate and kill people. There’s no known antidote, according to Neera Tewari-Singh, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the College of Osteopathic Medicine at MSU.
Tewari-Singh is working on an antidote. The chemical was created in 1929 by German chemists and stockpiled during World War II, but its use in battle was not reported. It targets the body’s mast cells, which are associated with allergy and inflammation-related issues. Because of this, Tewari-Singh will test whether epinephrine, the medicine in EpiPens that treat severe allergic reactions, or other antihistamines could be effective antidotes.
“What adds to CX’s deadliness is that it’s easily manufactured and one of the least studied of all chemical threat agents,” she says. “Our study will provide the first major insight into its toxicity and effects on the body.”
CX is too dangerous to be stored or studied at MSU; it only can be tested at government-approved facilities. Tewari-Singh is developing an antidote using mice that are exposed to CX by trained personnel using appropriate biosafety, biocontainment, and security measures at MRIGlobal, a research institute in Kansas City, Mo. After exposure at the facility, mice tissue is sent to Tewari-Singh’s lab for testing. CX degrades quickly, so humans are not at risk from the exposed mice tissue.
An antidote also could counteract other chemical agents Tewari-Singh has been studying.
“Technological advances have increased the risk of occupational and accidental exposure to toxic chemical agents in addition to their potential use in warfare and terrorism,” says Tewari-Singh. “Effective and targeted medical interventions currently don’t exist for most chemical threat agents, so in order to save lives and enhance the nation’s medical response capabilities in an event of a chemical disaster, it’s critically important that they are developed.”
In March, the FBI found massive amounts of dangerous chemicals, including CX, in an Oklahoma City apartment.