Graduate Student Awards Will Help Fund Cyanide Research

Newswise — BROOKINGS, S.D. — Four research fellowships awarded to SDSU chemistry students could help generate new knowledge to keep soldiers and civilians safe from cyanide exposure.

The awards went to Randy Jackson, Brendan Mitchell, Raj Bhandari, and Chakravarthy Vinnakota, all Ph.D. students studying with assistant professor Brian Logue in South Dakota State University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education graduate research fellowships will help the students as they work with Logue on understanding different aspects of exposure to cyanide and its metabolites. Metabolites are the breakdown products of a parent compound.

Cyanide exposure can be deadly because it makes the cells of an organism unable to use oxygen.

“Each of these fellowships generates $32,820 over the course of a year for these graduate students,” Logue said. “This funding allows them to focus on research important to the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, SDSU, South Dakota, and the nation. The research these students are conducting is in the area of cyanide toxicity and therapeutics and is ultimately sponsored by the Department of Defense.”

The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, or ORISE, is a part of the U.S. Department of Energy that works with scientific initiatives to research health risks from occupational hazards, assess environmental cleanup, respond to radiation medical emergencies, support national security and emergency preparedness, and educate the next generation of scientists.

Industry figures say about 1.1 million metric tons of hydrogen cyanide — a compound widely used — are produced annually worldwide. Logue’s research not only could help the military prepare to detect and treat exposure to cyanide if it is used as a chemical warfare agent, but could also help industry respond in cases where someone is accidentally exposed to cyanide.

Logue said the research fellowships are important because they allow graduate students to focus solely on their research instead of dividing their time between research and teaching. That allows them to finish their Ph.D. work faster, and it also allows the lab to produce research results faster.

Logue’s lab is developing analytical methods that use different metabolites of cyanide to determine if someone’s been exposed to cyanide and if so, how long ago was the exposure.

“We are also moving more into therapeutics — if someone has been exposed, how well something can counteract the effects of cyanide in a person.”

Logue’s lab helps with the analysis of some drugs that researchers elsewhere have developed for treating cyanide exposure.

Logue, who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from SDSU and his Ph.D. at Oregon State University, came to his research topic in part because of his active duty experience in the U.S. Army. He spent two years as a platoon leader, deploying to Middle East about a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as part of a biodefense unit. He finished his military service at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland as a captain at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Chemical Defense.