Professor’s theory could revolutionize how others study anthrax

By Brooklin Byrd
Asst. Life Editor

A Union professor has come up with a technique he thinks will revolutionize the way scientists treat anthrax.

Dr. Ashok Philip, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, spoke about his research Sept. 18 at the Kentucky Lake American Chemical Society regional meeting held in the Carl Grant Events Center.

Philip’s speech was on “Structure Based De Novo Design and Synthesis of Small Molecule Inhibitors of Protective Antigen (PA): A Novel Anti-toxin Approach for Combating Anthrax.” In his short lecture, Philip gave step-by-step explanations of his normally complicated-sounding research endeavors to the organization’s members.

That is, approaches now used to thwart the anthrax bacteria are outdated and ineffective. Anthrax attacks the body by infiltrating each cell and causing internal bleeding, swelling, a drop in blood pressure and sometimes death.

Philip’s approach to combating anthrax is an entirely new method to prevent harmful components in anthrax from activating by blocking a substance called “protective antigen.” Protective antigen is one of the factors that enables anthrax to be toxic; without this antigen, anthrax cannot become toxic to the cells that it infiltrates in a person’s body.

“When the bug infects, it releases three toxins simultaneously into your systemic circulation,” Philip said. “The key point here is these toxins independently are nontoxic in nature.”

That realization is important because the combination of toxins is what makes anthrax so lethal.

Philip said he targeted protective antigen because it invades cells first, giving more toxins access to the same cells.

Philip explained to the group that it took him and his team, several of whom are pharmaceutical students, 18 months of non-stop work to determine the structure of the protective antigen. Doing so enabled the researchers to find chemical compounds that would block the protective antigen from allowing other toxins access to cells.

Fifty-five of these compounds have been identified, he said. Philip said he is thankful for the resources made available in Providence Hall, which include instrumentation and computer programs specifically used for this type of ongoing research.

Brittany Hagler, sophomore chemistry major, has attended previous research presentations held by the chemistry department and was amazed at how understandably Dr. Philip managed to convey his procedures.

“It was interesting… Both interesting and easy to understand even for those who don’t have a lot of background knowledge of biochemistry and pharmaceuticals,” said Hagler. “I was kind of expecting not to understand it, but I was kind of shocked at how well I could follow him.”

Philip’s research is now in the “purification process,” which means that he and his team are in the process of identifying and testing which compound will be most effective in blocking protective antigen.

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