UAB Research Center for Excellence in Arsencials

Vesicants were developed as chemical weapons to debilitate the military and civilian populations during both World War I & II. Vesicants are chemicals that cause rapid, severe, and painful inflammatory and blistering responses in the skin.  These agents include mustards and arsenicals including sulfur mustard and lewisite.  Both sulfur mustard and lewisite were weaponized as single agents, as well as a mixture of the two.  Lewisite is an arsenical that was first produced at the end of WWI in 1918, even though it was never used during WWI.  Lewisite is not found naturally in the environment and it is only used as a chemical warfare agent.  It is a powerful irritant and blistering agent that damages skin, eyes, and a respiratory tract on contact.  Because it contains arsenic, it also mimics some of the same signs and symptoms as arsenic exposure.  The only known antidote for arsenicals is British Anti-lewisite (BAL), which is not effective and itself is highly toxic.  Still today, the molecular pathogenesis of arsenicals remains poorly understood.  The UAB Research Center of Excellence in Arsenicals was funded in order to develop mechanism-based antidotes to mitigate the toxicity of these chemicals and protect those exposed from multi-organ damage.  

The UAB Research Center of Excellence in Arsenicals was initially funded by the NIH CounterACT Program in September of 2018. The goal of this Center is to develop mechanism-based highly efficacious medical countermeasures against arsenical chemical warfare agents including lewisite, diphenylchloroarsine, diphenylcynoarsine, and diethylchloroarsine.  

The UAB Research Center of Excellence in Arsenicals will fully characterize the animal model of arsenicals-medicated acute and delayed cutaneous, pulmonary, and renal damage following skin exposure to these chemical vesicants.  Further, the Center will define molecular mechanisms of arsenicals’ toxicity, including those that lead to pulmonary, renal and cutaneous injury.  And finally, the Center will work to develop therapeutic interventions that suppress cutaneous, pulmonary and renal damage following skin exposure to these chemicals.  

Dr. Muhammad Athar
Director, UAB Research Center of Excellence in Arsenicals

“Our research will determine how arsenicals cause skin, lung, and kidney injury and we will use this information to develop antidotes that block these devastating effects.  We hope that this research will help us determine exactly how arsenicals cause damage to each tissue as better antidotes cannot be developed until we understand those specific effects.”  Dr. Mohammad Athar, Director, UAB Research Center of Excellence in Arsenicals.