Combo drug offers potent weapon against radiation exposure

In the horrific event of a nuclear disaster, people exposed to radiation would have few treatment options. Yet researchers from Harvard-affiliated hospitals have found that a combo drug could give victims of such a disaster a better chance of survival, even if they don't get treated for a day after exposure, a mouse study shows.

While the U.S. government funds a number of programs to find radiation-exposure remedies, there are no FDA-approved treatments for mass casualties from a nuclear attack or an event like the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children's Hospital Boston have a potential solution. In a mouse experiment, mice exposed to radiation got an antibiotic and a version of the anti-infection protein BPI. Almost 80% of those mice survived, while 95% of untreated mice exposed to radiation died after 30 days, Bloomberg reported.

The researchers went into the experiment armed with an understanding of what happens to the body when exposed to radiation. Important immune functions fail, leaving victims exposed to infectious invaders, and the lining of the gut breaks down, letting bacteria into the bloodstream where it isn't supposed to be. To combat these threats, the researchers used the infection-busting BPI and antibiotic combo. What's more, the mice weren't treated until a day after radiation exposure, opening the possibility that survivors of a radiation disaster wouldn't need to get the combo right way to benefit from it. And the results might warrant studies in other animals to advance the combo toward an approval.

"This could potentially be very useful," says radiobiologist Gayle Woloschak of Northwestern University in Chicago, as quoted by Science News. Woloschak wasn't one of the study's researchers.

- here's the abstract
- read Bloomberg's coverage
- and the article in Science News