May 09, 2016 I Brett Tingley

That Familiar Awful Smell May Be A Potent New Medicine

Scientists at the University of Exeter are testing a new experimental compound known as AP39 that has shown promise in treatments for a number of deadly diseases. While this type of news isn’t novel, this drug trial is unique due to the more widely-known property of the same compound: giving flatulence its characteristic smell.

Hydrogen sulfide: silent but deadly

Yes, that’s right: AP39 is derived from hydrogen sulfide, otherwise known as the compound that makes flatulence smell like, well, flatulence. Hydrogen sulfide is typically produced by bacteria as they feed on decaying organic matter in conditions where little to no oxygen is present, such as the human gut. In recent years, hydrogen sulfide has been the subject of a number of different medical studies and is yielding surprising results.

A study of AP39, published in MedChemComm, describes how the smelly compound works by protecting cellular mitochondria from being damaged. Mitochondria are responsible for producing the energy that allows cells to carry out their functions. By preserving mitochondria and therefore keeping cells adequately fueled, AP39 could allow cells to live longer or even regenerate after being damaged. So far, AP39 has shown promise in treating diseases and ailments ranging from diabetes and heart disease to strokes and even dementia. Another set of experiments has shown that hydrogen sulfide can even improve neurological recovery following heart attacks.

new job stinks
Wake up and smell the medicine

The authors of the study were quick to note in a University of Exeter press release that neither the article nor the press release “make any reference at all to cancer or to any health benefits from inhaling (sniffing) hydrogen sulfide.” So, next time you smell something funny coming from the elderly fellow in front of you on the bus, don’t be so quick to inhale deeply; AP39 will take further study and refining before it’s ready to be used as a treatment.

Brett Tingley
Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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