Southern Research and UAB Part of Multisite Study on Effects of Chemical Nerve Agents

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Sept. 8, 2015 – Researchers at Southern Research and the University of Alabama at Birmingham are part of a multisite consortium sharing a new five-year, $3.8 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke CounterACT program, part of the National Institutes of Health, to learn more about organophosphate exposure to the central nervous system.

Organophosphates are chemicals that have been used for decades as pesticides but are also major components of chemical nerve agents that represent a continued threat to military personnel and citizens from terrorist groups and rogue nations. The grant will be used to support research that investigates new chemical and imaging technologies to understand how poisonous organophosphates enter the brain and how antidotes and therapeutics can be used to reduce neurotoxic effects to organophosphate exposures.

The multi-principal investigator team includes John Gerdes, Ph.D., senior research fellow and director of neurobiology, Southern Research, Kurt Zinn, DVM, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of Translational Research in the UAB Department of Radiology, Henry VanBrocklin, Ph.D., professor of radiology at the University of California, San Francisco, and Charles Thompson, Ph.D., professor of biomedical & pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Montana.

Central to the award is the utilization of positron emission tomography ¬– or PET imaging – to evaluate organophosphate exposures and the efficacy of the therapeutics in hopes of developing highly useful clinical tools and therapeutic inventions.

PET imaging has been used widely in cancer diagnosis and to determine the progress of certain neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. This research is the first use of PET imaging to study toxic organophosphates. The researchers are hopeful that this PET imaging investigation will unveil important characteristics about brain susceptibility to toxic agents and guide drug development that halts or reverses the toxic effects following organophosphate exposures.

About Southern Research
Southern Research is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization with nearly 500 scientists and engineers working across four divisions: drug discovery, drug development, engineering, and energy and environment.

• We’re developing 18 drugs to combat various forms of cancer, ALS, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, kidney disease, and Parkinson’s, among others.
• We’ve developed seven FDA-approved cancer drugs.
• We’re developing new medical devices.
• We’re helping to launch manned missions to Mars.
• We’re making the air and water cleaner here on Earth.

We work on behalf of the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, major aerospace firms, utility companies, and other private and government organizations as we solve the world’s hardest problems. Founded in 1941, Southern Research is headquartered in Birmingham with additional laboratories and offices in Wilsonville and Huntsville, Frederick, Maryland, Durham, North Carolina, Cartersville, Georgia, and Houston. Learn more at

About UAB
Known for its innovative and interdisciplinary approach to education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is an internationally renowned research university and academic medical center, as well as Alabama’s largest employer, with some 23,000 employees, and has an annual economic impact exceeding $5 billion on the state. The five pillars of UAB’s mission include education, research, patient care, community service and economic development. UAB is a two-time recipient of the prestigious Center for Translational Science Award. Learn more at UAB: Knowledge that will change your world.

Media Contacts:
Southern Research: Rossi Morris
205-581-2266 or
UAB: Bob Shepard
205-934-8934 or