updated 6/20/2005 5:21:19 PM ET 2005-06-20T21:21:19

A small molecule helps block the deadliest part of the toxin produced by anthrax, somewhat increasing the survival of infected mice, researchers report.

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Inhaled anthrax can be deadly, and scientists have worked to develop treatments since five people died and several others were sickened in the 2001 anthrax-by-mail attacks.

A research team led by Martino Forino of the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, Calif., developed a small synthetic molecule that inhibits the activity of the portion of the anthrax toxin known as lethal factor.

The product holds the promise of the potential development of a safe treatment for anthrax, the researchers report in Tuesday’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To test their compound the researchers injected three groups of 10 mice with anthrax. After 24 hours one group was treated with the antibiotic ciprofloxacin and a second group was treated with the antibiotic plus their newly developed compound.

After four days all of the untreated mice had died. After 14 days, two of the mice treated with ciprofloxacin remained alive and four of the mice treated with ciprofloxacin and the new compound survived.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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