Protectan May Guard Us From Radiation Damage

A new drug developed from bacterial flagellin appears to prevent tissue damage caused by radiation. The work is based on previous studies that cancerous cells use nuclear factor kappa-beta--a transcription factor, or protein that turns on or off a gene's protein-making ability--to outlive normal cells and achieve runaway cell growth.

But healthy cells in the gut switch on the same transcription factor when they interact with benign and beneficial bacteria that reside there. Specifically, the protein flagellin in some of the microorganisms' whiplike tails [flagella] (which they use for propulsion) binds with a receptor on the gut cell and triggers the production of the transcription factor.


(E. coli bacterium powered by flagella)

Molecular geneticist Andrei Gudkov, chairman of the cell stress biology department at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., and his colleagues injected purified flagellin into mice just before exposing them to lethal doses of radiation.

The injection appeared to protect the cells of the mice; it also seemed to toughen them against the effects of free radicals and in general beef up their immune systems.

Mice without the injection died following exposure.

The researchers have based a new drug called CBLB502 on flagellin; it protected 87% of the mice from lethal doses of radiation. The new drug, called Protectan, could be used in a variety of contexts.

If given no more than one hour before radiation treatments, it could protect human patients undergoing treatments involving radiation. It could also provide protection to rescue workers called in to help with a "meltdown" or other release of radiation at a nuclear power plant.

Science fiction fans received an early dose of this idea. In The Deadly Years, a Star Trek episode first broadcast in December, 1967, the Enterprise investigates a mysterious illness at an experimental space colony. When it is found that the colonists (and some members of the Enterprise) were exposed to radiation, Dr. McCoy prepares an injection of Hyronalin, a special drug that counters the effects of radiation.

Read more about this drug research at Scientific American; thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip and the sf reference for this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/18/2009)

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