According to a report in the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronoth, US and Israeli researchers have developed a drug that offers protection from the damaging effects of radiation sickness. The medication could not only provide effective protection in the event of a nuclear or “dirty bomb” attack, but it could also enable cancer patients to be treated with more powerful doses of radiation.

Experiments carried out by Professor Andrei Gudkov, Chief Scientific Officer at Cleveland BioLabs, and his team exposed more than 650 monkeys split into two groups to a radiation dosage equal to the highest dosage sustained by humans as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. Of the group that didn’t receive the cure 70% died, with the survivors suffering from the obvious effects of radiation sickness. However, almost all the monkeys in the group given the medication survived, with most of them exhibiting no side effects.

The tests also showed that injecting the medication between 24 hours before exposure to 72 hours after exposure produced similar results, although Prof. Gudkov emphasized that the drug doesn’t provide 100% protection against radioactive damage. Another test, which involved giving the drug to humans without exposing them to radiation, showed no signs of side effects and indicated the drug is safe for human use.

The medication is the end result of an idea Prof. Gudkov had in 2003 to use protein produced in bacteria found in the intestine to protect cells from radiation. Five years and much hard work later has produced a medication that works by suppressing the “suicide mechanism” of cells hit by radiation, while at the same time enabling them to recover from the radiation-induced damage that triggered the suicide mechanism in the first place. The medication itself is not a vaccine, but a preventative drug that is administered as one or a series of injections.

Thanks to a shortened test track approved for bio-defense drugs Prof. Gudkov’s company expects to complete a set of expanded safety tests by mid-2010, with the medication expected to be approved for use by the FDA within a year or two, provided experiments continue at the current rate.

Israeli news site, YNet News, points to the strategic military advantage such a breakthrough would deliver as well as the medical importance of the medication, which could allow cancer patients to be exposed to greater doses of radiation offering a more powerful weapon in the fight against the disease. The medication could also provide some comfort for those situated close to nuclear power stations.

Source: YNet News, Cleveland BioLabs.