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Old drug in a new bottle
April 11, 2017, 1:44 pm

A drug developed during World War II as an antidote for a chemical warfare agent has been found to be effective at suppressing a neurotoxin that worsens the pain and severity of spinal cord injuries.

The neurotoxin, called acrolein, is produced within the body after nerve cells are damaged, increasing pain and triggering a cascade of biochemical events thought to worsen the injury's severity.

Researchers have now found that the drug, dimercaprol, removes the toxin by attacking certain chemical features of acrolein, neutralizing it for safe removal by the body.

The toxic nature of acrolein and its pathological role in a variety of disease processes prompt the use of acrolein scavengers as a new therapeutic approach for alleviating symptoms and curtailing tissue damage in neuropathic disorders, said the researchers behind the study at Purdue University in the United States.

Dimercaprol, also called 2,3-dimercaptopropanol, was developed by British biochemists during World War II as an antidote for lewisite, an obsolete arsenic-based chemical warfare agent. It is now used primarily to treat poisoning by arsenic, mercury, gold, lead, antimony, and other toxic metals.

Dimercaprol has been shown to have fewer side effects than other acrolein scavengers currently being used. It can be excreted in the urine and does not remain in the system. The researchers noted that future research may include work to test the drug with laboratory animals and in clinical human studies, which is feasible because the drug is already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

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