A Washington State University researcher, Ming Xian, has been awarded $1.5 million from the National Institutes of Health for his research of hydrogen sulfide in treatments of heart disease, traumatic shock and blood loss, complications of diabetes and possibly even Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Hydrogen sulfide gas, which was once used as a deadly chemical weapon in WWI, can reduce the body’s oxygen need by temporarily slowing down metabolism.
In previous studies, researchers found that the body itself produces hydrogen sulfide and uses it as a signaling molecule to help regulate physiological processes in the brain, heart and other organs. For example, hydrogen sulfide can help dilate vessels to control blood pressure.
The novel treatment with hydrogen sulfide can effectively reduce the damage of cardiac tissue. In a futuristic scenario, when a man is stricken by a heart attack, paramedics will skip the oxygen procedure and instead administer a bit of hydrogen sulfide that slows down the patient’s metabolism and puts his body into a protective state of dormancy. When the patient later fully recovers, his heart shows little sign of damage.
During a heart attack, blood with low levels of oxygen is blocked from flow into cardiac tissue. The worst damage occurs when blood pours back into the heart carrying normal levels of oxygen. The sudden influx triggers the release of oxidizing molecules that can destroy heart tissue. Hydrogen sulfide can block oxidizing molecules and protect the heart from further harm.
The research shows that animals treated with hydrogen sulfide experienced 70% percent less damage from heart attacks than animals receiving the traditional standard of care. Early treatment with hydrogen sulfide allows tissues to survive on lower concentrations of oxygen, potentially buying a patient enough time to secure proper treatment.
Hydrogen sulfide can also be used in treatment of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, which have severely reduced levels of hydrogen sulfide in brain tissue where it should be abundant.
Hydrogen sulfide shows promise to medicine. However, this compund is not easy to study since it is extremely short-lived and toxic, which has blocked prior attempts to recruit it into health care.
Ming Xian has started to develop a controllable source of hydrogen sulfide for use in biomedical studies since 2009. He developed the patented first controllable hydrogen sulfide donors and sensors after five years of research.
Xian’s donors and sensors are novel organic chemical compounds that allow hydrogen sulfide to be studied in living tissue with reliability and precision. Donors are engineered to release hydrogen sulfide when they contact specific molecules in the body, and sensors glow when they discover hydrogen sulfide within cells and tissues. These discoveries may one day be used to deliver medical treatment.
Today, Xian runs one of the world’s leading laboratories at Washington State University, Pullman. He expects to spread hydrogen sulfide’s applications from helping soldiers injured in battle, to treating heart attacks, to healing inflammatory conditions such as skin lesions in diabetics.
With a number of cutting edge ongoing research programs, Washington State University is one of the nation’s top public research institutions. It received more than $220 million, or 7% of the state of Washington's life science research funding in 2013.
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Last year, the BioResearch Product Faire™ Event at Washington State University, Pullman attracted 268 attendees. Of these attendees, 62 were purchasing agents, professors and post docs and 27 were lab managers. These attendees came from 29 different research buildings and 34 on-campus departments.
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