Could drug therapy protect against chemical attack?

Guy Weinberg, Douglas Feinstein, and Israel Rubinstein

Guy Weinberg (from left), Douglas Feinstein and Israel Rubinstein are investigating countermeasures to chemical warfare. Photo: Joshua Clark/UIC Photo Services

A team of UIC researchers in medicine, engineering and pharmacy will study whether a therapy now used to treat drug overdoses may protect against chemical attack.

The researchers are investigating a high-fat liquid, called a lipid emulsion, already approved as a nutritional supplement and used off-label to treat overdoses of anesthetics, beta blockers, calcium-channel blockers and certain antidepressants.

The team, led by Douglas Feinstein, research professor of anesthesiology, believes the lipid emulsion may be effective as protection against chemicals with potential to be used as weapons, preventing long-term neurological damage.

“Right now, lipid emulsion is given intravenously, but starting IVs and setting up to administer infusions for large numbers of people in an emergency scenario is impractical,” said Israel Rubinstein, professor of medicine and a co-primary investigator on the grant.

The researchers are looking at injecting lipid emulsion into the bone marrow, which has a rich blood supply and should allow it to diffuse rapidly throughout the body.

“First responders can give shots of lipid emulsion to large numbers of people very quickly using a specialized injection device that looks a bit like a gun that can poke right through clothing,” Feinstein said.

The research is funded by a five-year, $3.5 million CounterACT grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“We are hoping that this grant is just the first step in establishing a chemical-countermeasures center here at UIC,” Feinstein said.

Guy Weinberg, professor of anesthesiology who discovered the lipid-emulsion treatment for drug overdoses, is co-primary investigator on the grant. He is also a staff physician at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, where Rubinstein is a staff physician and associate chief of staff.

Other investigators on the grant are Dale Pelligrino, professor of anesthesiology, Belinda Akpa, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and Richard Van Breemen, professor of medicinal chemistry.

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