The Wikipedia definition of CO states the following: "Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas, yet [is] very toxic to humans." CO suffocates red blood cells and as such makes me glad I just put a new battery in our home carbon monoxide detector.
But the potential of CO as a medical treatment has evolved during the past several years. A decade ago, Leo Otterbein, an associate professor at Beth Israel Deaconess, was studying a benefical human enzyme which had CO as a byproduct. Given that CO was produced in the body, he wondered how it contributed to the enzyme's success in breaking down substances, the Globe story recounts.
Otterbein's work has been promising enough to spur a start-up company called Alfama, which is working on creating carbon monoxide releasing molecules or CORMs. Otterbein sit on its Advisory Board.
"Inhalation of CO at doses between 10 and 1000 ppm (in most cases 250 ppm) protected animals against septic shock, hemorrhagic shock, restenosis after arterial balloon injury, pulmonary hypertension, lung and heart injury," according to Alfama's web site. Besides studying the impact of CO on those acute conditions, Alfama is also focusing on how CO inhibits proteins that cause rheumatoid arthritis.
But there's great fear about CO's toxicity. I imagine patients were just as nervous with maggotts being used to clean their wounds. While not as lethal as CO, such a treatment has been around for hundreds of years and was used widely in the Civil War and WWI.
Alfama's introduction to its Science section puts these types of treatments into perspective:"Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie (William Shakespeare, All's Well that Ends Well, 1603)."
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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com