South Africa part of international chemical weapons biomarker research work


Protechnik Laboratories, an Armscor defence science and technology institute, is collaborating with a Netherlands-headquartered applied scientific research organisation developing methods to analyse biomedical samples for unique biomarkers of chemical weapons.

A scientist from the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) spent time at Protechnik’s Centurion facility initiating the project which Armscor hopes will continue with funding from the Organisation for the Prohibition of chemical weapons (OPCW).

According to the latest Armscor annual report: “Significant achievements from the visit include development of peptide adduct methods for analysis of the chemical weapon, mustard (HD). This is a new technique for determining whether a chemical weapon was used in a particular incident or not, a project largely driven by the OPCW. Interest in this field stems from the fact that most chemical weapons evaporate within days and later analysis and verification becomes impossible.
“Developed methods are applicable where blood of an exposed person is drawn and samples can then be tested up to a year after exposure lengthening the time window of determining the chemical weapon used. Protechnik successfully produced reference standards for analysis of sulphur mustard peptide adducts.”

In another co-operative venture, Protechnik annually presents an analytical chemistry course as part of the OPCW programme. The last course in South Africa was attended by 22 participants from 21 African countries.

The Armscor laboratory is also “highly involved” with the United Nations in the biomedical domain and is part of the Secretary-General’s international laboratory network.
“This initiative was workshopped in Switzerland and the domain was able to contribute to proceedings. In order to contribute positively to this UN initiative, the domain is set to enhance its research focus in the fields of biodefence, environmental toxicology and public health in the short to medium term.”

This approach will position Protechnik to efficiently and effectively service the needs of the Department of Defence and the South African population in general according to the report.

Ergotech is Armscor’s specialist ergonomics consultancy and has provided a comprehensive and efficient service in ergonomics and occupational health and safety, both locally and internationally, for more than two decades.

In execution of part of its mandate Ergotech focuses on the application of anthropometry, biomechanics, human physiology, cognitive ergonomics, human functional performance, design and specification of human-machine systems and test and evaluation of environmental stressors, human-machine systems and specialised health and safety issues.

Highlights of the year under review were a three dimensional scan anthropometry of soldiers for accommodation requirements and verifying low dose x-ray imaging for relating internal and surface anatomy to inform armour coverage in various postures.

A new approach to soldier hydration monitoring was investigated, energy expenditure and thermoregulatory measures evaluated among attack divers and the impact of heat stress on South African soldiers examined. Research into blast biomechanics using digital image correlation was initiated and whole-body and hand-arm vibration was tested on high-speed rigid inflatable boats.

These are examples of Ergotech research conducted for the national defence force addressing both human and system performance solutions.

Additional research highlights included Ergotech’s involvement in providing ergonomics specifications and evaluations for AfricaTruck and Command and Control recommendations for the Defence Decision Support Institute. The ergonomics consultancy was also involved in selection of SA Air Force (SAAF) flight crew incumbents and continued to provide input to the base fitting of the new service dress for the SANDF.