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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 00:02 GMT
Hope for anthrax victims
Anthrax under the microscope
A new therapy added to conventional antibiotics could help many more people survive the deadliest form of anthrax.

The release of anthrax is one of the most feared forms of biological attack, and scientists in the US and elsewhere are racing to find ways to improve vaccines and post-exposure treatments.

At the moment, while there are antibiotics which can help people with anthrax, if they have the most lethal form, they will die if not treated quickly.

Even though the antibiotics will tackle the anthrax bacteria, the body will be overwhelmed by toxins produced by the bug.

Researchers from a Virginia-based biotech company believe they have found a way to "buy some time" for the antibiotics to get to work.

As well as the antibiotics, they plan to flood the body with proteins called antibodies.

These are designed to bind onto the toxin molecules - effectively labelling them for destruction by the immune system.

Rabbit saving

The researchers gave their combination therapy to rabbits exposed to an inhaled anthrax dose sufficient to kill four out of five animals.

If these animals were given antibiotics alone, then half of them would still die.

However, Dr Vladimir Karginov, who led the programme, said that the combination treatment was far more effective.

He said: "In contrast, administration of rabbit antibodies in combination with ciprofloxacin produced 100% survival."

Initiatives in the UK to help attack the anthrax toxin could also help produce treatments.


Professor Graham Richards, from the University of Oxford, headed a "combined computing" project hunting potential molecular targets on the toxin's surface.

Millions of PC users contributed to the search by downloading screensavers which "borrowed" spare processing power to carry out the calculations.

He said: "The anthrax toxin consists of three proteins - we were looking for sites the proteins which, if you blocked them, might stop the toxin forming."

The project yielded information which was sent to US government researchers working on potential drugs, and Professor Richards' team is now working to produce similar results on smallpox.

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