The US military is funding a three-year study to evaluate the effectiveness of an enzyme found naturally in the blood that could help protect soldiers against the effects of the deadly nerve agent, Sarin.
Known as GOT, the natural blood enzyme has been found to be quite effective in protecting the cognitive and coordination abilities of animals after being exposed to the Organo-phosphorus nerve agent.
According to Cath O'Driscoll, the Israeli firm Braintact will now determine the enzyme's effectiveness in humans.
In an article for the Society of Chemical Industry's magazine Chemistry and Industry, O'Driscoll says that the new study will be a follow up of an earlier unpublished work with rats, which showed the enzyme successfully protected the animals against neurological problems caused by exposure to paraoxon, a model compound for nerve agents such as Sarin, Soman and VX.
GOT's ability to protect against neurological damage, the company claims, is down to the fact it can bind to, and chemically inactivate, a chemical called glutamate, also found in the blood and brain.
In normal, healthy individuals, glutamate's role is as a neurotransmitter carrying nerve impulses between cells. When cells are damaged or dying, however, as on exposure to nerve agents - or as a result of other forms of brain injury including stroke or disease - they release far more glutamate than normal, over-exciting and killing nearby nerve cells.
In related work published earlier this year, by Vivian Teichberg at the Weizmann Institute of Science and researchers at the Beer Sheva University in Israel, activation of GOT in the blood was found to prevent brain damage caused after brain injury in rats.