By Alastair Jamieson
The team claims to have created a molecule that can attach itself to unwanted substances in the bloodstream such as an overdose of drugs or an anaesthetic no longer required following surgery.
The molecule, Bridion, created by a team from Schering Plough in Lanarkshire, has been used in trials with patients who had been given a paralysing drug as an anaesthetic in major surgery.
Existing treatments for poisonings and insect bites are complex while some drug overdoses, such as paracetamol, are very difficult to reverse.
The new receptor molecule forms a ring around the unwanted chemical, rendering it ineffective within three minutes, the time it takes the blood to circulate round the body. Both the molecule and the chemical can then be excreted naturally.
Possible future uses of the mechanism could include removing alcohol from the bloodstream quickly from those who have drunk too much or as a fast-acting treatment for overdoses, targeting drugs such as paracetamol which can cause liver damage as it circulates in the bloodstream. It could also be used as an antidote for poisons and toxins, such as snakebites and spider and insect bites, which can cause death and major illness.
Dr David Hill, head of pharmacology at Schering Plough said: "We have proven the concept that you can have these artificial receptors that bind specific agents. You can imagine creating very specific molecules to interact with things.
"We have looked for things like whether it can reverse paracetamol poisoning. Although Bridion itself can't, because this molecule is very specific for the muscle relaxants, there are chemists looking at this host-guest interaction and it's not inconceivable that chemistry could be directed to make very specific agents."
Bridion works specifically on the commonly used muscle relaxants, Rocuronium and Vecuronium, used to keep patients extremely still during major surgery such as hip operations. They render the patient paralysed so surgeons can perform delicate procedures.
Dr Hill added: "The side-effects (of Bridion] are virtually nil, you just have this fantastic reversal of the paralysis. The potential now is that the anaesthetist has much greater control over the degree of muscle paralysis. When something like this comes along they are quite excited."