Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Botulism Paralysed

Botox injection

Botox acts by paralysing small groups of muscles when injected in the face.

By Callista Harper & Frederic A. Meunier

A new class of inhibitors could prevent infection by a neurotoxin classified as a Category A biological weapon.

A/Prof Frederic A. Meunier is a NHMRC Senior Research Fellow and head of the Neuronal Trafficking Laboratory at the Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland. Callista Harper is a PhD student in his group.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

While the origins of botulism lie in food poisoning caused by contaminated sausages, it is probably best known under its commercial name Botox, which is used in cosmetics to smoothen wrinkles.

However, what is not widely advertised is that botulinum neurotoxin is an incredibly deadly agent capable of killing several million people with just 1 gram. For this reason it is a potential bioterrorist threat, with the USA’s Homeland Security classing it as a Category A biological weapon.

Paradoxically, it is the only Category-A compound that is also approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat a wide range of muscular and neurological disorders, and even more for which it does not have official approval.

Although Botox and other brands of botulinum neurotoxins are currently used to treat a wide range of ailments there is still no way of curing cases of abuse or misuse that lead to the disease botulism. This is why it is so invaluable to develop a treatment for this deadly toxin, and why we decided to take a novel approach to this investigation.

Current Treatment Regimes
While on average there is only one case of botulism each year in Australia, compared with approximately 100 cases in the United States, it is still a serious disease with a 5–10% mortality rate. Current treatments are limited and rely on antitoxins...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.