A novel treatment could rapidly clear carbon monoxide poisoning

Creating an easy-to-administer antidote.


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Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless and colorless gas produced when gasoline and other fuels burn. Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide builds up in the bloodstream. One can get very sick or even die within a few minutes.

There are limited treatment options for those suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Tim Johnstone, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz, has been working to develop an easy-to-administer antidote. He designed small molecules that possess many of the features of the active site of hemoglobin but can bind CO much more tightly than the protein.

In the latest study, he and his colleagues have described the ability of one such molecule to bind CO, sequester CO that is already bonded to hemoglobin, and rescue red blood cells exposed to CO, all promising signs for a future antidote.

Johnstone said“These are early results, but the hope is to create a point-of-care treatment that can be administered quickly. The most common carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Because it mimics the flu, people may experience symptoms without realizing the danger and delay seeking treatment.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Daniel G. Droege et al. A water-soluble iron-porphyrin complex capable of rescuing CO-poisoned red blood cells. DOI: 10.1039/D1CC05542A


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