A lethal dose of cyanide can take your life in minutes. It kills by blocking your cells' use of oxygen, suffocating the body and brain. There are FDA-approved antidotes, but they're served up via intravenous injection. Just imagine paramedics hooking up IVs for 10,000 convulsing and comatose commuters—as might have been necessary if a 1995 cyanide attack in Tokyo had worked.
Now researchers have come up with what may be a better antidote. Called sulfanegen TEA, it's injected intramuscularly, faster and easier than an IV. The antidote works by supplying more of the chemical precursor our bodies naturally use to detoxify cyanide. After all, we already break down trace amounts of cyanide from apple seeds, spinach and cigarette smoke. This shot just amps up that process. It's detailed in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. [Steven E. Patterson et al., Cyanide Antidotes for Mass Casualties: Water-Soluble Salts of the Dithiane (Sulfanegen) from 3-Mercaptopyruvate for Intramuscular Administration]
Of course, antidotes only work if you know you've been poisoned—not the case for the seven people murdered by the Tylenol poisoner in 1982. But if terrorists did release cyanide gas in the subway or another public place, this new antidote might give us a shot at saving more lives.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]