Researchers in the radiation oncology department at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have received a $14 million grant to develop countermeasures that will help treat damage caused by radiological or nuclear threats such as a dirty bomb attack, with possible applications to radiotherapy-induced damage. The grant is a renewal of a $14 million grant first awarded to UCLA in 2005 by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The grant is part of a major research effort to develop medical products to diagnose, prevent, and treat the short- and long-term consequences of radiation exposure after a radiological or nuclear terrorist attack.
UCLA is one of seven institutions nationwide, and the only one on the West Coast, that are part of the countermeasures initiative. William McBride, PhD, DSc, a professor of radiation oncology and a Jonsson Cancer Center researcher, serves as UCLA’s principal investigator.
Thus far, more than $105 million has been awarded under the Centers for Countermeasures Against Radiation program. The program supports research in radiation biology, as well as projects to develop diagnostic tools to measure radiation exposure and therapeutics to treat resulting tissue damage. At UCLA, researchers are focusing on identifying compounds that would mitigate the damage that radiation exposure does to the immune system, Dr. McBride said.
"The blood and bone marrow are the most likely to be damaged in a nuclear accident or terrorist situation," said Dr. McBride, who has studied the effects of radiation on the body’s immune system and other normal tissues. "After Chernobyl, many people died of bone marrow failure, so it is vital to find ways to protect the public from harm and discover ways to diminish the damage."
The research also might result in new strategies to reduce the organ and tissue damage that occurs due to radiation exposure during cancer therapy, he said.
Dr. McBride and his team have already identified several compounds that may be effective in combating radiation damage, include the antibiotic tetracycline. They will use high-throughput screening to continue the search for other compounds that may also be useful.
After identifying a potential compound, Dr. McBride and his team study it in the lab, first in cells in Petri dishes and then in animal models.
"We’re looking more at agents that will help mitigate damage to the blood and bone marrow because there is a dearth of such agents now," Dr. McBride said. "We need agents with minimal toxicities that we can stockpile in the event that we need to treat tens or hundreds of thousands of people."