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Medicine Science

Cure For Radiation Sickness Found? 385

Summit writes "A scientist has claimed to have discovered a radioprotectant that all but eliminates acute radiation sickness even in cases of lethal doses of radiation in tests on rats and monkeys, when injected up to 72 hours after exposure. They also claim the drug, a protein, has no observed negative effects in humans. They have not irradiated any people just yet, but if this turns out to be true, it could mean everything from curing cancer to making manned interplanetary space expeditions feasible... not to mention treatment for radiation exposures in nuclear/radiological accidents/attacks. If this drug works, it would mean a true breakthrough as past experiments with radioprotectants were not particularly promising in any respect." The only source for the story at this time is an exclusive in YNet News, a site with the subtitle "Israel At Your Fingertips." Such a radioprotectant would be huge news for Israel. Make of it what you will.
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Cure For Radiation Sickness Found?

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  • There's more information on Medical News today [medicalnewstoday.com] if anyone wants a more medical take on this and a less ... Israeli interpretation (I don't know about you but I'm not too hung up on what nationality the researchers are and am more so interested in the technical details). Their 2008 annual report [corporate-ir.net] sheds a lot of insight on this as well. Although this information has been public knowledge since the beginning of the year, it should be interesting to watch their stock fluctuate [google.com] throughout today.
  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:43AM (#28728933)

    So this can patch you DNA back together after it's been ripped to shreds?

    Pardon me, but I'm a bit sceptical.

  • Suicidal cells (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Antidamage ( 1506489 ) * on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:47AM (#28728997) Homepage

    "The medication works by suppressing the "suicide mechanism" of cells hit by radiation, while enabling them to recover from the radiation-induced damages that prompted them to activate the suicide mechanism in the first place."

    So it turns the cell into a cry for attention?

    Seriously though, saving cells damaged by radiation sounds like a shortcut to cancer. Is the claim of 'enabling cells to recover' realistic?

  • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:47AM (#28729005) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if this could be used to help cancer patients who are undergoing radiation treatment.

    Radiation is a good way to cause cancer. Radiation does damage not only to cell structures, but also does irreversible damage to DNA, which can cause cancer. People being treated for severe radiation poisoning may survive only to find they are plagued by repeated development of cancerous tumors all over their body.

    Alive still, but not nearly the rosegarden of living that the casual headline reader would envision.

  • BG? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cpt_Kirks ( 37296 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:50AM (#28729037)

    Is that the stuff Helo kept shooting up while he was stranded on Caprica?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 17, 2009 @10:01AM (#28729197)
    There's a certain risk involved in keeping cells from undergoing apoptosis due to how that damage could result in cancerous cells, but it could also mean that the cells have time to repair, or will undergo apoptosis more gradually as the drug wears off. (Thus damaged cells are still destroyed, but not in the sudden, rapid manner that causes deadly radiation sickness.) It's a promising development to be sure, even if it's not a perfect solution.
  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @10:06AM (#28729277)

    Yeah, that was a stupid thing to say, given I know fine that it generates secondary species all along its path. My main gist is that there's an easy mental image of ionising radiation striking a DNA molecule and damaging it, which isn't the correct mechanism at all. The correct thing to say is that it can only ionise the DNA if it encouters it, whereas the secondary species effectively give it a larger cross-section. Secondary species are exteremely important to DNA damage. Their lifetimes aren't particularly large but they're monumental compared to the time the original radiation spends in the body.

  • Re:I doubt it... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Robert1 ( 513674 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @10:06AM (#28729283) Homepage

    No it won't. The damaged is caused by radiation which destroys DNA. Radioactive particles that are helium or larger are stopped by your skin. Smaller particles ionize organic molecules within your body producing highly reactive radicals. Maybe its these radicals you call energetic particles? Anyway even if you remove them the DNA damage from the radiation is still there, and often the extent of the radical damage is beyond the coping mechanism of the cell. Acute damage is in the radiation, radical damage is the slow damage of aging.

    Like the GP said, the methods of radiation damage are diverse, it is impossible for there to exist a single pill that treats it from all these aspects. The pill would need to be a cluster of several different types of DNA repair enzymes (to repair DNA damage from all the possible ways of bond damage), as well as being an antioxidant (to absorb radicals) and some sort of protein 'digestant' (to remove the denatured proteins). Since the body took 3+ billion years to come up a couple dozen enzymes to fulfill these purposes, it seem unlikely (downright impossible!) that a single molecule could be created to take their place.

  • by oneirophrenos ( 1500619 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @10:17AM (#28729435)
    Developing mutations that enable tumour cells to evade apoptosis is one of the crucial methods by which they achieve malignacy. If we introduce a drug that prevents a cell from committing suicide after irrevocable genetic damage, we significantly increase the odds of cancer. That drug is, effectively, a carcinogen. However, if the alternative is death from the stochastic effects of radiation exposure, maybe the drastic increasing in cancer probability is an acceptable downside.
  • Re:Oh good, (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 17, 2009 @10:23AM (#28729503)

    You start advertising missiles pointed towards Mecca. There's still MAD.

  • Re:I doubt it... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by holmstar ( 1388267 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @10:45AM (#28729831)
    Well, if receiving a treatment that prevents me from dieing of radiation sickness (at the cost of increasing my long-term chances of cancer) I think I would choose the treatment.
  • Re:Suicidal cells (Score:5, Interesting)

    by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @10:53AM (#28729937) Journal
    Apoptosis, programmed cell death, is very easy to turn on, and very hard to turn off, because the body's usual mode of operation is to just make another cell. They're cheap. So you want them to die off if there's any doubt at all whether they're healthy. So if a cell suffers almost any damage, it just kills itself rather than risk cancer.

    In the case of radiation poisoning, the problem is that so many cells die, that you die. If you can prevent them all dying, you can maybe handle the cancer issues from cells that were damaged such that they've become precancerous, later.

    The other thing that's interesting about this, to me, is that there are indications that people who have had heart attacks or hypothermia don't die from those, but from a massive wave of programmed cell death as a result of, essentially, misinterpreting the results of the heart attack/hypothermia: big fluctuations in oxygen levels and ion concentrations [scripps.edu], that make the cells all think they're individually damaged and cause them to die en masse. If this could be used to stop that process, it could save millions of lives every year, not just the very few people who have radiation poisoning.

  • Cell death? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 17, 2009 @11:22AM (#28730353)

    I remember reading that upon trying to resuscitate someone, it was resupply oxygen to the oxygen deprived cells that triggered the cells' suicide mechanisms and made resuscitation impossible. The article seemed to suggest inducing hypothermia into the person before slowly reapply oxygen allowed them to be resuscitated after longer periods of time than usual. I wonder if this protein would achieve the same effect, if it is indeed the restoration of oxygen that triggers this mechanism, then this protein may block that, keeping the cells intact.

  • Re:I doubt it... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by radtea ( 464814 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @11:35AM (#28730543)

    it will just prolong their life and alter the proximal cause of death from radiation sickness to (most likely) a flood of lymphomas.

    Assuming they aren't lying about their animal models, this is not the case, nor would one expect it to be.

    Apoptosis is a programmed response to generic cellular damage (amongst other things.)

    We evolved in a low radiation environment, so there was no selection for more clever apoptosis triggers than, "lots of damage, time to die!" Because such a mechanism would only kill off a cell needlessly now and then, it posed no risk. It was, like so many evolved solutions to problems, good enough.

    Unfortunately this generic and rather indiscriminate mechanism is not appropriate to the rare and artificial case of high radiation exposure, in which many cells sustain lots of damage, but most of it reparable. Under these circumstances, turning off apoptosis and letting the expensive machinery of cellular and genetic repair do its thing is more desirable.

    It is still likely that there is an elevated long-term risk of cancer comparable to that from high non-lethal doses, but since the usual mechanism of apoptosis will turn back on as the drug clears the system, most of the irreparable cells will off themselves at that time.

    Overall, I am cautiously optimistic about this.

  • Re:I doubt it... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @11:35AM (#28730551)

    Apoptosis does not occur randomly. You must trigger it. In this case, with ionizing radiation-induced DNA damage, you have MMR proteins and the ATM/ATR system signaling to activate p53-dependent apoptosis. Since there are a number of checkpoints along the way, the cell that proceeds to apoptosis has already failed the evolutionarily-conserved tests for genome integrity and capability to repair its DNA damage.

    It's is not feasible, given our knowledge of molecular biology, to prevent apoptosis after massive radiation exposure, without virtually guaranteeing a relatively quick (on the order of weeks to months) death from resultant tumors. The cell death mechanisms are there for a reason.

    P.S. If you think dying from multiple foci of aggressive invasive lymphomas over a period of a couple of months is less painful than dying of massive GI epithelial and hematopoietic failure due to radiation sickness over a period of one week or less, then you haven't seen many cancer patients.

  • by reverseengineer ( 580922 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @11:51AM (#28730759)
    Here [medicalnewstoday.com] is a Medical News Today article about the drug, CBLB502, in question. I have to say I'm impressed- they used 6.5 gray (Gy) of ionizing radiation as their test dose. The Mayo Clinic considers an absorbed dose of 5.5 to 8 Gy as causing "very severe radiation sickness." (And goes on to mention, "Doses greater than 8 Gy are generally not treated successfully and usually result in death within two days to two or three weeks depending on the duration of the exposure.")

    In comparison, a full-body CT scan is about 0.01 Gy, anywhere from 12-100 Gy is typically used for antimicrobial irradiation, depending on the material and microorganisms of interest, and 5000 Gy is about the threshold where Deinococcus radiodurans starts to get bothered by ionizing radiation.
  • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @12:10PM (#28731057)

    To continue on your argument: cells get damaged by radiation, want to suicide, drug prevents that, cells repair, but not all repair correctly and may cause cancer.

    This cancer risk might actually be quite low. This drug will work for a certain amount of time before it is removed from your body naturally, as happens to all medicine. When this drug is gone, the incorrectly repaired cells will suicide after all. Now if I'm interpreting this correctly we would hope that say 95% of the cells with radiation damage can fully repair themselves, leaving with 5% with unrepairable damage which will suicide in the end. And that were the potentially cancerous cells of course.

    If my idea is correct then indeed the risk of cancer is increased only slightly. I can't imagine there is no increased risk, as there are so many cells that need repairs that there are probably quite some cells that are repaired not perfectly but good enough to not commit suicide. After all ageing also has mainly to do with "wearing out" of DNA after too many cell divisions, and the DNA picking up too many errors. And cancers are more prevalent in older people for exactly that reason.

  • Re:Suicidal cells (Score:3, Interesting)

    by T Murphy ( 1054674 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @12:38PM (#28731423) Journal
    They claim they didn't find cancer in the test animals afterwords, so I guess it is realistic. Considering the point is to make radiation treatment safer, a small chance of causing cancer is worth a better chance of curing the current cancer.
  • Understand the sociological background. Briefly, the situation is apparently this, in my opinion:

    In recent past years, there was extensive TV footage of Israeli-owned U.S.-made Blackhawk helicopters [palestineinformation.org] operated by Jews firing at Palestinians on the ground throwing rocks. I saw that numerous times on TV. The footage was apparently taken from Blackhawk gun cameras, apparently by people who disagreed with the violence. Now, however, apparently because of the negative reaction, such footage is no longer shown.

    The TV coverage upset 3 groups of people:

    1) Arabs and Muslims. There are 1.1 billion of them, and they don't like being killed. Note that, in the entire world, there are an estimated 14 million Jews.

    2) U.S. taxpayers. The money to buy the helicopters was apparently available due to U.S. government corruption. The U.S. government gives billions of dollars of taxpayer money to Israel every year, with the understanding that the money will be used to buy U.S.-made weapons. That is very profitable, apparently, since the Israelis are not in a position to negotiate a low price.

    3) Jews who don't like the violence. There are Jews who think the violence will eventually be bad for all Jews everywhere. One Jewish leader said that the weapons were like throwing gasoline on a fire.

    The first group has often threatened violence in return. Iranians, for example, have threatened Israel. This threat has been exaggerated by people in the U.S. who want to profit from another war.

    Some Jews in Israel feel frightened by the threats from Iran. If there is a nuclear attack on Israel, a simple chemical that could repair radiation damage done to the body would be very popular. Any company offering such a chemical could expect plenty of investment by Israelis.
  • Re:I doubt it... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @12:59PM (#28731723)

    My understanding is that apoptosis on a massive scale can outrun the body's ability to repair itself, thus taking down the whole system. Using a drug to limit apoptosis should slow this process down and let the body properly heal. Presumably, cells that are "marked to die" will still ultimately die as the drug is withdrawn - just not all at once.

    The researchers agree that cancer is a risk - but they report not having seen any in the lab animals thus far.

  • Re:I doubt it... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @01:12PM (#28731913) Journal

    ... this compound doesn't fix damage done by radiation - rather it prevents the body from killing off the damaged cells, thus preventing radiation sickness. The makers speculate that it will increase cancer risk, but they so far have not observed this in lab animals.

    And that seems about right. (Actually it prevents the cells that are damaged from killing THEMSELVES off.)

    After an intense dose of ionizing radiation there's a lot of broken stuff hanging around in a cell. Some of this triggers the suicide mechanism. But if the DNA isn't damaged (or isn't damaged in a significant and non-repairable way) by the radiation or the subsequent debris, it can typically recover (if it doesn't "slit its own wrists").

    Cell suicide for local damage, to prevent possible cancer from mutated cells, is an appropriate response. But suicide of the bulk of the cells kills the person, when surviving with a somewhat higher cancer risk later is not.

    So it seems to me that a drug that temporarily suppresses the mechanism, used to let the body survive a radiation exposure event that would otherwise kill it, is indeed likely to result in a living subject with a somewhat higher cancer risk.

    But as I recall the released studies on cancer risks among survivors of single high-dose radiation events - like nuclear lab accidents and Hiroshima/Nagasaki survivors - indicated a very small increase in cancer risk. So not seeing a significant bump in cancer rates among a small sample of lab animals in preliminary tests is hardly surprising.

    So the claims seem plausible to me.

  • Woohoo! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tgd ( 2822 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @01:14PM (#28731949)

    Can I get it in a spray mister so I can just spray it into my basement and not worry about all that pesky radon?

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @01:37PM (#28732273)
    Cells first developed radiation damage mechanism to repair UV damage. When photsynthesis evolved, cells wanted to get closer to the sun, yet avoid the effects of UV radiation in an Earth lacking an ozone layer. Ozone depends on free oxygen in the atmosphere which was scarce in the first half of Earth history.

    The second inducement was the incorporation of mitochrondria into eucharyote cells. This gave cells ten times the energy they had before to eventually power animal locomotion. However, mitochrondria spew out all kinds of nasty poisons like free oxygen, protons, and high electric fields. Cells had to develop mechanisms to neutralize these.
  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Friday July 17, 2009 @01:57PM (#28732535) Homepage Journal

    My first thought is that it sounds like a start toward an "immortality" drug.

    Face it, we're living in a science fiction novel!!

  • by omris ( 1211900 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @02:54PM (#28733279)

    It's true that it usually doesn't, but it sometimes CAN. A cell that has minor damage will most certainly be repaired. A cell that has major damage will lyse and hopefully be replaced by new cells. But when all of the cells lyse at once, there is no way to replace them fast enough. If you can keep most of the cells alive long enough for some non-damaged cells to proliferate, then you could theoretically have viable organs at the end.

    Normally, it's more energy efficient to convert a damaged cell into basic components that can be reused than repair the cell, but the repair mechanisms do exist. Apoptosis can be halted, and things will go on relatively normally. The damaged cells might not work all correctly, but if faced with the option of 'die' or 'maybe die', I'll choose 'maybe die'. Plus, if the dangerous part of radiation therapy can be averted, the cancer I'm liable to get later is a lot easier to deal with.

  • by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:50PM (#28737493) Journal

    Consider this - with an effective "cure" for radiation, it ceases to become a bogeyman and people will be a LOT more comfortable

    Well there is a difference between radiation and radioactive, so I'll address your points with the goal of clearing any misunderstanding.

    with clean, efficient nuclear power stations nearby.

    It's the entire Nuclear Industry that releases radioactive isotopes into the environment. Mining, enrichment, the reactors themselves and as yet no long term plan to contain spent fuel. ALL radioactive isotopes emit some form of radiation which is a cause for cancers. ALL radioactive isotopes 'Bio-concentrate' in the food chain and can be ingested. The amount of radioactive isotopes released into the environment is proportional to the activity of the Nuclear industry, so the likelihood of exposure increases over time. All radioactive isotopes analogue nutrients in the body so (for example) plutonium 'looks' like iron to the body is a potent cause of leukemia as the isotope decays - which will generally be longer than a human lifetime.

    efficient nuclear power stations nearby.

    How are Nuclear power plants efficient when PWR's only use 0.3% of the fuel?

    It takes out a large leg from the alarmists that try to stop them from being built.

    This 'potential' medication will only give Nuclear armed states the capability to inoculate their populations against a nuclear strike. So this medication actually *increases* the potential for a nuclear engagement because one side may feel they have the upper hand wrt protecting their population. This changes nothing about Nuclear Industry practices and will not stop you from developing cancer from ingesting radioactive isotopes.

    A Nuclear bomb releases a lot of radiation *at the time*. The Nuclear Industry, including reactors, release a lot of radioactive isotopes which emit radiation *over time*.

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