A*Star scientists discover how to combat bioterrorism toxin
A team of scientists from A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) has discovered the secret recipe for ‘antidotes’ for a potential bioterrorism toxin.
In this first ever genome-wide study, the team led by IMCB Principal Investigator, Dr Frédéric Bard, found the recipe for ‘antidotes’ that could neutralise the deadly plant toxin Ricin, widely feared for its bioterrorism potential, as well as the Pseudomonas exotoxin (PE) responsible for the tens of thousands of hospital-acquired infections in immune-compromised patients all over the world.
The team discovered a host gene called ERGIC2 to be an attractive therapeutic target because it is not only highly essential for Ricin but also required for PE intoxication. “This means that we could potentially develop a generic antidote that is effective against the two different types of toxins by blocking ERGIC2 function,” said Dr Bard.
Security experts say an amount roughly equivalent to half a grain of rice of Ricin, an extremely potent poison, is enough to kill an adult, making it 1,000 times more poisonous than cyanide. There are currently no known antidotes for Ricin, and the ease of production of this tasteless, odorless plant toxin is why ricin is feared for its immense bioterrorism potential.
Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are a major healthcare problem affecting millions of people around the world. The bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa that secretes PE toxin is a common cause of HAIs in vulnerable individuals, including those with burn injuries or receiving intensive care.
The results of this study may also be useful for designing more effective antidotes against Diphtheria and Shiga-like toxins secreted by infectious strains of E. coli bacteria, such as those responsible for the recent food poisoning outbreak in Germany.
Highlighting the significance of this study, Dr Bard added, “Through this genome-wide screen, our understanding of how toxins interact with human cells at the molecular level expanded tremendously. Our hope is that with these new therapeutic targets identified from the human genome, we will be one step closer to finding toxin antidotes that will make hospital-acquired infections and enterotoxic E. Coli outbreaks a thing of the past.”