OU researcher finds anthrax drug

Saturday, December 31st 2005, 3:06 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A researcher at the University of Oklahoma has accidentally discovered one of the most promising drugs in the fight against anthrax.

Microbiologist Jimmy Ballard, who has studied the harmful bacteria since 1992, said he was running his usual experiment when he made the discovery.

Ballard said he was so shocked by the result that he had his technician retest six times before he accepted it.

The drug could eventually change the way anthrax is treated, Ballard said.

``It was serendipity for sure,'' Ballard said Friday. ``It's a very unique way of possibly treating anthrax.''

Ballard was testing how the anthrax bacterium called Bacillus anthracis attacks human cells. While testing anthrax in his Oklahoma City lab, he introduced a drug called an inhibitor.

Inhibitors are being tested for their ability to stop the growth of cancer. Ballard wanted to see what the drug would do to human cells after exposure to anthrax.

When Ballard and his team looked at results, they found the drug stopped the growth of human cells and the growth of anthrax.

They discovered a protein similar to the one targeted by the drug compound is on anthrax bacteria. Scientists know a malfunctioning protein causes human cells to grow too much. The overgrowth is a factor in cancer and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.

Ballard said the bacteria shows no resistance to the inhibitors as they do with antibiotics.

The finding could lead to revolutionary ways to treat all types of harmful bacteria, although Ballard warned against too much excitement yet because tests have not been done on bacteria other than anthrax.

``The potential is there,'' Ballard said. ``We want to make sure we are exactly right about it.''

Ballards research team double-checked their results by comparing the recently mapped DNA of the anthrax bacterium with the human genome.

The comparison showed similar proteins on both.

Ballard will use information from current human clinical trials to speed up his research for an anti-anthrax drug. He is searching for a company to produce the treatment and is seeking a patent.

An anthrax drug based on his research should be available within two years.