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Drugs Treat Late-Stage Anthrax

Protease inhibitors give tardy cases a shot at survival

MONDAY, Dec. 29, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Researchers believe they have found a way to treat late-stage cases of anthrax, past the point when conventional antibiotics no longer work.

A group of small molecules have been identified that inhibit a deadly toxin associated with inhalational anthrax, says a research team led by scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School.

Used in combination with antibiotics, these molecules -- called protease inhibitors -- could help treat anthrax cases later in the disease's progression, the researchers say.

The inhibitor keeps the anthrax toxin from attacking the body's cells and immune system by denying it a crucial enzyme called protease.

Autopsies of people who died from inhalational anthrax have revealed that the bacteria itself had been killed off by antibiotics. The people died from the anthrax toxins already released in their systems, rather than from a persistent infection.

"Unlike most types of bacteria, Bacillus anthracis has the ability to produce large amounts of a toxin that can kill the patient even after antibiotics have destroyed the bacteria," says study author Dr. Lewis Cantley. Cantley is chief of the signal transduction division at BIDMC and a professor of systems biology at Harvard.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about anthrax.

SOURCES: Harvard Medical School, news release, Dec. 29, 2003
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