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Calif. Scientists Create New Radiation Treatment

The U.S. Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California on Tuesday said researchers are at work on an enhanced treatment for victims of a mass radiation incidents such as a nuclear strike or a radiological "dirty bomb" attack (see GSN, Jan. 6).

At present, the only available medical treatment for decontaminating victims of radiation incidents involves the injection into a vein of a chemical compound  that does not have the ability to completely rid the body of poisonous actinide contaminants such as lawrencium and actinium, according to a laboratory press release.

The new treatment under development at the institution can be taken as a pill, allowing for streamlined administration of the countermeasure following a large-scale nuclear incident.

Based on the amount of actinide contamination and how quickly the countermeasures are taken, a single pill would take no more than one day to cause the body to expel roughly 90 percent of radioactive substances. One pill ingested each day for 14 days is projected to be adequate for ridding the body of essentially all actinide traces.

"With the expanding use of nuclear power and unfortunate possibility of nuclear weapon use, there is an urgent need to develop and implement an improved therapy for actinide contamination for a large population," said research team leader Rebecca Abergel in provided remarks. "We are now in the process of demonstrating that our actinide-specific decontaminating agents are ready for clinical development."

Researchers have wrapped up their initial study and development of two promising hydroxypyridonate ligands and have begun communicating with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on whether more technical information is required to begin clinical testing.

A drug firm would normally enter the process at this development point, but it has not been easy to draw private investment for a countermeasure with no certainty of ever being used.

"As we move further along with the FDA process, it should be easier to convince private pharmaceutical companies to get involved," Abergel said.

Financial support for the project was provided by the Energy Department's Science Office, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Rapid Access to Interventional Development Program (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory release, March 6).

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