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Respiratory Tract

Potential Medical Countermeasures

Although current treatments can be administered in a controlled hospital setting, many hospitals are ill-suited for a situation involving mass casualties among civilians. Inexpensive positive-pressure devices that can be used easily in a mass casualty situation, and drugs to prevent inflammation and pulmonary edema are needed. Several drugs that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for other indications hold promise for treating chemically induced pulmonary edema. These include β2-agonists, dopamine, insulin, allopurinol, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is particularly appealing because it has an established safety record and can be easily administered as an initial intervention. Studies have shown that ibuprofen improves survival and reduces lung fluid levels in mice exposed to phosgene. Inhaled and systemic forms of β2-agonists used in the treatment of asthma and other commonly used medications, such as insulin, dopamine, and allopurinol have also been effective in reducing pulmonary edema in animal models but require further study.

Other promising drugs in earlier stages of development act at various steps in the complex molecular pathways underlying pulmonary edema. Some of these potential drugs target the inflammatory response or the specific site(s) of injury. Others modulate the activity of ion channels that control fluid transport across lung membranes or target surfactant, a substance that lines the air sacs in the lungs and prevents them from collapsing. Mechanistic information based on toxicology, biochemistry, and physiology may be instrumental in determining new targets for therapy.

Mechanistic studies may also aid in the development of new diagnostic approaches. Some chemicals generate metabolic byproducts that could be used for diagnosis, but detection of these byproducts may not be possible until many hours after initial exposure. Additional research needs to be directed at developing sensitive and specific tests to identify individuals quickly after they have been exposed to varying levels of chemicals toxic to the respiratory tract.

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Last Updated February 29, 2008