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The Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in attacks on its own people is raising questions in the research community about the need to counteract such activity, according to two experts at the University of Tennessee.

The Knoxville News Sentinel recently interviewed Jeremy Smith, a governor’s chair researcher at UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the director of the UT/ORNL Center for Molecular Biophysics, and Howard Hall, also a governor’s chair and director of the Institute for Nuclear Security at UT. Both experts expressed a need for more research on counteracting these chemical weapons.

“The potential use of nerve agents such as sarin in Syria this week emphasizes the need for scientists to find drugs that can counteract their activity,” said Smith.

According to Smith, ORNL has a supercomputer with the potential to help find a counteracting drug.

Hall said although he wasn’t aware of ORNL working on developing any specific countermeasures or antidotes at the moment, the lab could contribute to finding new solutions.

“Sarin is an extremely fast acting and dangerous nerve agent that can lead to a horrible and agonizing death via muscle constriction,” Hall said.

He said the missile attack carried out Friday by the U.S. was a proportionate response to Syria’s actions, though it also raises questions going forward about what the U.S.’ next steps will be.

“If it persuades President (Bashar) Assad to stop doing these things it’s beneficial,” Hall said. “If it doesn’t, we’ll have to see what the next steps are. Certainly I think this action has the effect of giving our diplomats more leverage and more ability to reach a diplomatic solution because there is now not just the ability to offer carrots but also a stick, if you will.”

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