The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences announced $3.4 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study injuries from “full-body radiation exposure from a nuclear accident or bioterrorism,” according to a Wednesday press release.
Bioterrorism is the “intentional use of micro-organisms to bring about ill effects or death to humans, livestock, or crops,” according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Anthrax, the plague and smallpox are examples of this.
Three health professionals who hold a wide range of expertise are spearheading the five-year study, and three more will act as co-investigators. The study is called “Platelets in Radiation-induced Immune Dysregulation.”
“We can be exposed to high doses of radiation because of radiation accidents or during radiological warfare,” lead investigator Rupak Pathak, Ph.D. said, “especially in recent times with conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine war where nuclear power plants are at risk.”
The overall goal of the study is to restore immune function after high levels of radiation exposure and encourage drug development that reduces these side effects.
“If there is something we can apply after exposure that will prevent immune dysfunction, we have a good chance of limiting injuries in several organs,” Pathak said. Immune dysfunction can have significant health impacts, including the development of autoimmune disorders or cardiovascular disease, he said.
The Food and Drug Administration currently has some approved drugs specifically for bone marrow injuries as it relates to radiation, but none for other organ systems, according to the release.
Pathak said mice will be treated with drugs or proteins 24 hours after radiation exposure to test the study’s research. No human individuals are currently involved in the research, Pathak said.
Preliminary studies show radiation exposure has a connection to platelets — which help form blood clots, stop bleeding or heal wounds — and the immune response. “Radiation-induced immune damage often causes injury to the heart and intestine,” according to the report.
Martin Cannon, one of the doctors involved, said, “In very simple terms, we’re looking for the on and off switch” for pathways that link to radiation damage.