Rensselaer researcher receives $2.1 million grant to develop treatment for anthrax

02/04/04

TROY, N.Y.--Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researcher Ravi Kane has been awarded $2.1 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to develop an antidote to counteract the potentially deadly anthrax toxin in humans who have been exposed to the bacteria's spores.

"The goal is to develop a compound that can be manufactured quickly and affordably to effectively eliminate the threat of a large-scale bioterrorist anthrax attack," said Kane, Merck Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer. "The work that we have done so far gives us confidence that those goals are within our reach."

The Rensselaer group led by Kane is funded through its portion of a $5.5 million collaborative NIH grant to develop molecular inhibitors that will effectively disable poisonous anthrax toxin without posing a risk to human health. The researchers aim to develop compounds that will be suitable for clinical testing on humans at the end of the four-year study.

In addition to Kane, the Rensselaer team includes a group of graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and Rensselaer chemistry professors Jim Moore and Mark Wentland, who serve as consultants for the project. The team will collaborate with researchers at the University of Toronto; the Ordway Research Institute Inc. in Albany, N.Y.; and Biophage Pharma Inc. in Montreal.

The NIH support enables the team to build on Kane's earlier work in developing anthrax inhibitors. He previously synthesized a substance that neutralizes anthrax toxin, but the compound needs to be tested for its ability to combat anthrax spores.

"It is one thing to develop a compound to neutralize anthrax toxin, but it is another thing to create one that humans can take safely," Kane said, adding that his portion of the research does not require any anthrax spores to be used on the Rensselaer campus. "We will be developing the inhibitors, trying to understand how they function, and then actually making them work for people--not just in the Petri dish."

Research has shown that existing antibiotics can successfully destroy anthrax bacteria, but not the toxin in anthrax, which can be fatal to humans. Kane said the compound he is developing could be injected into healthy humans as a preventive measure against anthrax exposure, or given to infected individuals as an antidote to counteract anthrax toxin, which will then allow the immune system or antibiotics to eliminate anthrax bacteria.

Kane's anthrax inhibitor research is part of Rensselaer's overall effort to advance biotechnology discoveries for the benefit of public health, the environment, homeland security, bioterrorism, economic development locally and globally.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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