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2-Drug Combo May Block Radiation Sickness

November 25, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Emergency Radiology, Practice Management
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A two-drug combination—an antibiotic and a synthetic protein—may alleviate radiation sickness, even if treatment begins a day after exposure to high levels of radiation, a new study indicates.

Researchers (led by scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital Boston, both in Boston and both affiliated with Harvard University) have achieved remarkable success with mice. A month after radiation exposures that almost always prove fatal within that time period, 80 percent of mice given the two-drug regimen were alive and apparently healthy.

Radiologists, among others, might have use for a drug therapy that’s effective even when begun as late as a day after radiation exposure, said Eve Guinan, MD, of Dana-Farber:

There is great interest in creating systems for dealing with the short- and long-term health risks of a significant release of radiation, whether from an accident at a nuclear power plant, an act of terrorism, or even a small-scale incident in which a CT machine malfunctions.

Dr. Guinan, the study’s lead author, was quoted in a news release from Dana-Farber, where she is associate director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Research. The study was published this week in Science Translational Medicine.

The researchers gave the mice a fluoroquinolone antiobiotic similar to the human antibiotic ciprofloxacin (best known under the brand name Cipro) and rBPI21, a synthetic version of the natural human infection-fighting protein BPI.

The ability to generate new blood cells, which can shut down after radiation exposure, rebounded much more quickly and vigorously in the mice given both drugs.

Radiation can also cause leakage of bacteria and toxins into the bloodstream from the digestive tract or skin while preventing the formation of white blood cells, which the body normally uses to fight such infections. The white blood cells release BPI, which binds to endotoxins on the surface of the bacteria.

So the antibiotic kills the invading bacteria, and the rBPI21 binds to and helps eliminate the endotoxins. Both agents have a good safety record with humans and can be stored for long periods of time. Said senior author Ofer Levy, MD, PhD:

Both fluoroquinolone antibiotics and rBPI21 have been shown to be quite safe in humans. Their combined effectiveness in our study involving mice is an indication that they may be equally beneficial to people.

Dr. Levy is an associate physician and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston.

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