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Treatments for acute radiation syndrome are in development

March 26, 2011|By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times
  • Two workers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are brought to a hospital to be treated for radiation exposure.
Two workers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are brought… (EPA / Yomiuri Shimbun )

Two workers from Japan's troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were sent to the hospital Thursday to be treated for radiation exposure. Unfortunately, modern medicine has little to offer in the way of treatment to people who absorb dangerous amounts of ionizing radiation.

But that might soon change. According to Spoonful of Medicine, a blog maintained by Nature Medicine, several companies are developing drugs and other ways to counteract the ill effects of acute radiation syndrome, or ARS.

People suffering from ARS typically experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC. A fever, skin damage and even a coma may follow. Doctors focus on alleviating these symptoms by caring for burns, offering blood and bone marrow transfusions and treating infections with antibiotics and other medicines.

The U.S. government has set aside more than $500 million to invest in new therapies as part of two laws passed in 2004 and 2006, the Project BioShield Act and the Pandemic and All-Hazard Preparedness Act, Spoonful of Medicine reports. Here's what some of that money (and other funds) are buying:

  • Cleveland BioLabs is working on a drug that would "activate a cell survival pathway" by binding a particular immune protein, according to the blog. The drug, which is derived from a salmonella bacteria, has been tested in two phase 1 safety studies involving 150 healthy people.
  • Onconova Therapeutics is taking another approach. Its potential drug aims to halt the action of proteins (such as p53) that help a cell self-destruct, and its safety has been tested in more than 50 people.
  • Osiris Therapeutics is using bone marrow to create a stem-cell-based treatment that would help repair organ damage incurred as a result of radiation exposure.
  • Cellerant Therapeutics is developing a blood stem-cell treatment that, when infused into patients, would help build up the ranks of infection-fighting cells. This treatment is notable because it appears to last for up to a week.
  • Finally, Aeolus Pharmaceuticals is working on a small molecule that can tamp down the inflammation and oxidative stress that follows acute radiation syndrome.
For more, you can read the full post on Spoonful of Medicine.

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