Southern Research and UAB part of multisite study on effects of chemical nerve agents

Researchers at UAB and Southern Research are teaming up with a consortium to study the effect on the brain of chemical agents known as organophosphates.

chemical nerve agentsResearchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Southern Research are part of a multisite consortium sharing a new five-year, $3.8 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke CounterAct Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, to learn more about organophosphate exposure to the brain.

Organophosphates are chemicals that have been used for decades as pesticides but are also major components of chemical nerve agents that represent a continued threat to military personnel and citizens from terrorist groups and rogue nations. The grant will be used to support research that investigates new chemical and imaging technologies to understand how poisonous organophosphates enter the brain and how antidotes and therapeutics can be used to reduce neurotoxic effects to organophosphate exposures.

The multi-principal investigator team includes Kurt Zinn, DVM, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of Translational Research in the UAB Department of Radiology, John Gerdes, Ph.D., senior research fellow and chair of Neurobiology, Southern Research, Charles Thompson, Ph.D., professor of biomedical/pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Montana, and Henry VanBrocklin, Ph.D., professor of radiology at the University of California, San Francisco.

Central to the award is the utilization of positron emission tomography — or PET imaging — to evaluate organophosphate exposures and the efficacy of the therapeutics in hopes of developing highly useful clinical tools and therapeutic inventions.

PET imaging has been used widely in cancer diagnosis and to determine the progress of certain neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. This research is the first use of PET imaging to study toxic organophosphates. The researchers are hopeful that this PET imaging investigation will unveil important characteristics about brain susceptibility to toxic agents and guide drug development that halts or reverses the toxic effects following organophosphate exposures.