Treatment Shows Promise for Toxic Radiation Levels: DARPA

The federal agency funded research that paired antibiotics with bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein (BPI), which is a protein found in immune systems. It increased the survival rates of mice exposed to toxic levels of radiation to nearly 80 percent, DARPA announced Jan. 4.

DARPA, the federal advanced research agency, has reported a successful research project for treating previously lethal doses of radiation. The DARPA-funded work used antibiotics along with bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein (BPI), a protein found in immune systems, and showed it fought radiation sickness more effectively than when the two are used separately. (Doctors already use antibiotics to treat radiation sickness; the agency says soldiers may be exposed to high levels of radiation, so countermeasures against high doses are a high priority for the Department of Defense, among others.)

The researchers found that the combined treatments increased the survival rates of mice exposed to toxic levels of radiation to nearly 80 percent and were effective up to a day after exposure to radiation. Humans are known to be more sensitive than mice to the endotoxins treated by BPI, so the treatment is potentially more effective in humans, according to DARPA, which said these are commonly used drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in bone marrow transplants and radiation treatment. Because they have a long shelf life, they can be stockpiled for future use.

"The fact that this treatment can be administered up to a day after radiation exposure is so important," said Millie Donlon, identified as DARPA's program manager for the research. "This is because most of the existing treatments we have require they be administered within hours of exposure to potentially lethal radiation -– something that might not always be possible in the confusion that would likely follow such an exposure event."

Researchers have not yet determined why combining BPI and antibiotics works so well. The mice that received both not only had higher survival rates, but also started generating new bloods cells more quickly, indicating the potential for "positive impact on many logistical considerations tied to radiation exposure, such as need for hospital time and requirements for donors and transfusions," according to DARPA's news release.

The research is the result of earlier efforts in this area conducted as part of DARPA’s Radiation Bio-Dosimetry (RaBiD) program, an effort to develop non- or minimally invasive, portable, low-cost radiation bio-dosimeters and novel radiation mitigation technologies that can be administered 12 or more hours after exposure and provide better than 90 percent survivability to humans. RaBiD began in 2008 and ended in August 2011.

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