Scientists have created a synthetic compound that disables the toxin that makes the bacterial disease anthrax so lethal. Meanwhile, another research team has discovered a gene that protects some mice against anthrax. These findings could lead to an antidote to the anthrax toxin and help clarify the mechanism by which it kills.
Whether the new compound can serve as an antitoxin in people remains unclear since the scientists have tested it only in rats, says R. John Collier of Harvard Medical School in Boston. Nevertheless, the concept of neutralizing anthrax toxin has appeal because the current treatments, which target the bacterium, and the vaccine now in use have drawbacks.
When a person inhales spores of Bacillus anthracis–the microbe that causes anthrax–they unleash three proteins that combine to form a toxin. This triad makes blood pressure plummet, causes hemorrhaging, and can lead to coma and death.