Scientists have created a synthetic compound that disables the toxin that makes anthrax so dangerous. Also, a second research team has discovered a gene that protects some mice against anthrax. Together, these discoveries could lead to an antidote to anthrax.

When someone inhales spores of anthrax, the bacteria unleashes 3 proteins that combine to form a poison that causes a sudden fall in blood pressure and internal bleeding, which can lead to coma and death.

There are no drugs available that can disable this toxin, so R. John Collier of Harvard Medical School and his team set out to find one. They found a protein that sticks to, and disables, the toxin and they have tested it in rats. When rats were injected with the substance, it protected them against 10 times the normally lethal dose of anthrax.

Antibiotics can kill anthrax, but have no effect on the toxin when symptoms appear. The vaccine causes side effects and ?it?s hard to justify vaccinating a whole country against one particular agent of biological terrorism,? says researcher Robert C. Liddington of the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, CA. They hope to produce an antidote to anthrax that can be kept in storage centers around the country.

Meanwhile, William F. Dietrich of Harvard and his colleagues have found that variations of a specific gene in mice protects them from anthrax. This could lead to a more effective vaccine against the toxin.

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