Sunday, December 4, 2011

Drugs reverse lethal radiation damage

Radiation treatment is often used to combat certain types of cancer, or before a bone marrow transplantation in blood diseases. Like many other therapies, it is not very specific, causing harm to surrounding tissue. Scientists from Harvard Medical School found that drug treatment can significantly decrease the damage caused by radiation therapy. It can probably be used in the clinic, to ameliorate the side-effects found when patients undergo radiation therapy.

A patient undergoing radiation therapy.
Experiments
The researchers irradiated mice that underwent a bone marrow transplantation, and were given a normally lethal dose. The sustained damage focuses around the intestines, where rapidly dividing cells are the first ones to be affected by the harmful rays. Treatment consisted of a combination between broad-spectrum antibiotics and a drug that decreases the leakiness of the gut after damage.

Mechanism and results
Because of the treatment, mice suffered less from the bacterial infections, arising from a leaky gut due to the radiation. This is normally one of the biggest problems after irradiation. Our gut is full of bacteria that are normally shielded from our tissues, and make the insides of our intestines as their home. Giving mice the drug combination resulted in a survival rate of 80 percent, while normally all animals receiving a high dose would be killed. Interestingly, the treatment still proved to be successful 24 hours after the lethal dose was given.

Use in the clinic
The drug treatment can be used as a prophylactic in patients about to undergo radiation therapy. While it will not eliminate all the side-effects, it will at least take away part of it. Both drugs were previously used in humans, which means clinical use can be started relatively soon. An additional use of the novel therapy is treatment after accidental exposure to radiation.

If we do get a nuclear war, I guess this new treatment is handy to keep in mind.

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