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Saturday, 26 September, 1998, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Drug 'blows apart' bacteria
bacteria
Durg works by destroying bacteria from the inside
Scientists say they have found a new drug that could kill a wide range of bacteria and viruses including the deadly anthrax virus.

The US company Novavax said the drug, called BCTP, literally blows apart bacteria, without harming normal cells.

"One of the most remarkable characteristics of this material is its ability to rapidly destroy a wide variety of dangerous bacteria and viruses, while remaining non-toxic to people, animals and the environment," said one of the researchers, Dr James Baker of the University of Michigan.

The drug strips away the outer membrane of a microbe and explodes its contents but does not harm other cells.

The research suggests BCTP could be used to counter the use of anthrax as a biological weapon.

Fears that Iraq had stockpiled anthrax bombs led to the inoculation of all American troops.

When inhaled, anthrax spores kill quickly and once the symptoms appear it is too late to treat them with antibiotics.

Dr Baker's team tested mice infected with a relative of anthrax known as Bacillus cereus. The mice developed large areas of dead skin.

"When we washed the animals' skin lesions with BCTP, the wounds began to heal," he said, with the lesions on the mice reduced by 95%.

Killing from the inside

Microbes like anthrax can be killed by poisonous substances like bleach or formaldehyde. But the problem is that they also kill healthy cells.

BCTP is made up of a mixture of tiny pieces of fats and chemicals. It is said to work by breaking down the tough outer coat of a microbe, which is usually resistant to disinfectants.

"BCTP's detergent then degrades the spore's interior contents. In scanning electron microscope images, the spores appear to explode," explained Dr Baker.

The research was presented at the American Society of Microbiology's annual ICAAC meeting on infectious diseases in San Diego.

Dr Baker's work is funded by Novavax and by the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, plans to test the drug against inhaled anthrax spores.

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See also:

01 Sep 98 | Gulf War Syndrome
The Gulf War syndrome: fact or fantasy?
09 Nov 98 | Middle East
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
26 Sep 98 | World
Anthrax: a deadly bacterium
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