The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a five-year $23.2 million grant to a group of investigators at Rutgers University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School to continue their research aimed at developing drug products that could be used against chemical warfare agents from a terrorist attack.
Members of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI), Rutgers and UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School have been collaborating with scientists from the School of Public Health at New York Medical College and the Chemistry Department at Lehigh University for the past five years to devise therapies that could be used if deadly chemical poisons were released into the general population.
The focus of the research is the development of drugs to treat individuals exposed to mustard gas. The newly awarded funding allows these investigators who are part of the UMDNJ/Rutgers CounterACT Research Center of Excellence the opportunity to continue work begun in 2006 after the NIH granted Rutgers and UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School $19.2 million to establish the center and begin its research.
"This funding allows our us to continue our considerable efforts with different research groups to develop drug products that can be used successfully against a chemical terrorist attack," said Jeffrey Laskin, Professor of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and director of the center. "This is critical to preventing serious injury and death from any such attack."
The focus of the center's research is the development of drug products to treat individuals exposed to mustard gas, which causes symptoms ranging from skin irritations and conjunctivitis to severe ulcerations, blistering of the skin, blindness and irreversible damage to the respiratory tract and lungs. Mustard gas was first used by the German military against Allied troops during World War I and more recently in the Iran-Iraq conflict during the 1980s. It is easy to make and transport and is still considered a high risk terrorist threat.
"We were asked if we could apply our expertise to help address this type of national security issue," said Laskin. "There has been a lot of conversation over the years about the problems that could result from a terrorist attack and everyone realized that we needed to develop a therapy to counteract this if it happens."
The principal investigators in the UMDNJ/Rutgers CounterACT Research Center of Excellence include Director Jeffrey Laskin of UMDNJ, Co-Director Donald Gerecke at Rutgers Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, Marion Gordon, Debra Laskin and Patrick Sinko, also at Rutgers School of Pharmacy, Diane Heck at New York Medical College, and Ned Heindel at Lehigh University. They work closely with Batelle Laboratory in Ohio, where mustard gas experiments are carried out.