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Berkeley Lab scientists developing quick way to id people exposed to ionizing radiation
Date:12/17/2012

There's a reason emergency personnel train for the aftermath of a dirty bomb or an explosion at a nuclear power plant. They'll be faced with a deluge of urgent tasks, such as identifying who's been irradiated, who has an injury-induced infection, and who's suffering from both.

Unfortunately, there isn't a quick way to screen for people exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. There also isn't a quick way to distinguish between people suffering from radiation exposure versus an infection due to an injury or chemical exposure.

The most common way to measure exposure is a blood assay that tracks chromosomal changes. Another approach is to watch for the onset of physical symptoms. But these methods can take several days to provide results, which is far too late to identify people who'd benefit from immediate treatment.

A much faster way could be coming. Research conducted by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) could lead to a blood test that detects if a person has been exposed to radiation, measures their dose, and separates people suffering from inflammation injuriesall in a matter of hours.

The scientists identified eight DNA-repair genes in human blood whose expression responses change more than twofold soon after blood is exposed to radiation. They also learned how these genes respond when blood is exposed to inflammation stress, which can occur because of an injury or infection. Inflammation can mimic the effects of radiation and lead to false diagnoses.

The result is a panel of biochemical markers that can discriminate between blood samples exposed to radiation, inflammation, or both. The scientists believe these markers could be incorporated into a blood test that quickly triages people involved in radiation-related incidents.

They report their research in a paper recently published online in the journal PLOS ONE.

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Contact: Dan Krotz
dakrotz@lbl.gov
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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