Although the finding has come too late to save lives following the quake in Haiti, researchers are hopeful that "the treatment can be validated in humans before, or even during, the next big quake"

A common drug used to treat headache can help save thousands of earthquake victims who die of “crush syndrome” — a condition in which their kidneys fail after being rescued, scientists have claimed.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, claimed that their experiments in rats have shown that the drug “acetaminophen” prevents the syndrome, also called as rhabdomyolysis, in which muscle debris from crushed limbs floods the kidneys soon after the limb is freed from rubble, causing them to fail.

“When you release the pressure on muscle through rescue, debris goes to the kidney. It’s like a chain reaction, and acetaminophen blocks it,” said Olivier Boutaud, who headed the research team.

Although the finding has come too late to save lives following the quake in Haiti, Mr. Boutaud is hopeful that “the treatment can be validated in humans before, or even during, the next big quake”, the New Scientist reported.

According to the researchers, the destruction of muscle through crushing leads to the release of myoglobin, a protein vital for delivering oxygen to muscle and other tissue.

When the myoglobin reaches the kidneys it clogs the tubules and produces harmful chemical agents called free radicals.

These free radicals destroy fatty membranes in the kidney, which die and turn black. They also trigger constriction of blood vessels, cutting off blood flow to the kidney and halting filtration of blood, rapidly leading to death through kidney failure.

The condition became known as the “smiling death” in China after apparently uninjured victims died, said the report.

For their study, Mr. Boutaud and colleagues induced crush syndrome in rats via muscular injections of sugar.

But after giving them human-equivalent dose of acetaminophen, the scientists found the drug successfully blocked both of these processes, whether given before or shortly after the injury.

Reporting their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mr. Boutaud said: “We don’t know yet whether it would work, or how soon we’d need to give it to prevent kidney damage.

“But we must try because it could save thousands of lives.”

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