New drug shields against radiation

A medication that can protect people exposed to normally lethal doses of radiation from a nuclear or a “dirty” bomb has been developed, reports say.

In tests involving 650 monkeys exposed to radiation equivalent to that recorded during the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster in 1986, 70 per cent died while the rest suffered serious maladies, the newspaper Yediot Achronot said yesterday.

Of the group given anti-radiation shots, almost all survived and had no side effects. A test on humans not exposed to radiation showed none suffered side effects from the medication.

The medication was developed by Andrei Gudkov, chief scientific officer at Cleveland BioLabs in the US. Also involved was Israel’s Elena Feinstein.

“We made a breakthrough that may save the lives of millions,” Dr Gudkov was quoted as saying.

The medication has important implications in the treatment of cancer, the report said, since it permits use of more powerful radiation.

If the medication is given final approval by the Food and Drug Administration, which Dr Gudkov said would happen within two years, it could have a strategic impact, particularly for nations threatened with nuclear attack. Among the major fears in the West is not nuclear attack but “dirty bombs”, which kill mostly by radiation.

Dr Gudkov conceived the idea in 2003 of using protein produced in bacteria found in the intestine to protect cells from radiation. “The medication works by suppressing the ‘suicide mechanism’ of cells hit by radiation,” the newspaper said, “while enabling them to recover from the radiation-induced damages that prompted them to activate the suicide mechanism in the first place.”

The medication is a preventative drug administered by one or several doses
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