New skin gel protects from some pesticides

Indian researchers have developed a gel which, when applied on the skin, can inhibit some pesticides from getting absorbed into the body, thus averting serious adverse effects and even death. Organophosphate-based pesticides, which are commonly used by farmers in India, are toxic to the nervous system and heart, and can cause cognitive dysfunction. When esters present in organophosphate-based pesticides enter the body they bind and inhibit an enzyme (acetylcholinesterase or AChE) critical for nerve and muscle function. This causes neurological disorders, suffocation, paralysis, and even death. Making inactive A team led by Dr. Praveen Kumar Vemula from the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem), Bengaluru, an autonomous institute under the Department of Biotechnology, used a chemical reaction to convert the ester into acid by using a catalyst to make the pesticide inactive. Since the majority of organophosphate-based pesticides are absorbed through the skin (the nasal/inhalation route constitutes about 10-15%) the researchers made a gel for topical application. The active ingredients of the gel are attached to chitosan (a substance found in the hard outer shells of crab and shrimp) so the gel does not penetrate the skin. Studies on rats found that the gel was effective in a range of temperatures (20°-40° C) and a single application could protect the animals for four continuous days of pesticide exposure. “As long as there is a thin layer of the gel present on the skin it can offer protection from pesticides,” said Dr. Vemula. “The gel does not act like a physical barrier but chemically deactivates the pesticides thereby limiting the inhibition of the enzyme.” The gel can be washed off using soap.

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