Medical College of Wisconsin to develop drug countermeasures for radiological terrorism


NIH funds research center

The Medical College of Wisconsin has been selected to receive a five-year, $18.5- million contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to establish a Center for Medical Countermeasures against Radiation, one of seven such centers being established nationally. NIAID is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

While the centers have been launched to develop countermeasures to potential radiological terrorist attacks, their research could also benefit hundreds of cancer and blood disease patients every day, and radiation accident victims worldwide.

"Historically, the priorities and resources committed to medical research in wartime have produced great advances in modern medicine," says Medical College Dean and Executive Vice President Michael J. Dunn, M.D. "Addressing radiation injury with the same dedication applied to infection, trauma and rehabilitation, will enhance medicine for generations to come."

Their mission is to develop medications to protect against, mitigate and treat the long and short-term consequences of radiation exposure due to terrorist attack, according to John Moulder, Ph.D., professor of radiation oncology at the Medical College, and host director of its new Center. Dr. Moulder is also a member of the Medical College's Cancer Center.

"Being prepared to deal with radiological terrorism should not only diminish its impact, but may also make it less attractive to terrorists," says Dr. Moulder. "It's lack of preparation that makes the idea of radiological attacks particularly terrifying."

Dr. Moulder was one of the initial group of radiation biologists from academia, government, military and industry who proposed to study countermeasures to radiological terrorism following the 911 attacks. Meetings initially organized by the National Cancer Institute's Radiation Research Program eventually led to the establishment of the centers through NIAD.

The NIAID radiation countermeasures program has several components. These include:

  • detection and measurement of radiation exposures to plan a rational response
  • methods to protect first responders who must enter attack areas
  • treatments to prevent or minimize victim injuries.

    The Medical College Center consists of 13 faculty researchers in the departments of radiation oncology, surgery, medicine and pediatrics who have formed a consortium with seven other scientists, drawn from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, the University of Toronto, and Proteome Systems, Inc., a Massachusetts-based biotechnology firm.

    Their goal is to develop drugs to treat acute or long term injuries to the gut, lung, kidney and brain that are expected to occur in victims who have received damaging doses of radiation, but have avoided or survived bone marrow injury.

    "In terrorist attacks, advancements in the treatment and mitigation of these hematological injuries are key to the utility of our drugs for acute and long-term organ injuries," he says. "However, the everyday usefulness of our medications in treating the side-effects of medical radiation could be tremendous for thousands of cancer and bone marrow transplant patients." The Medical College team has established expertise in treating kidney, lung and gut injury due to radiation therapy. The Toronto group uses other approaches to treating lung injuries. The Detroit group is focused on treating central nervous system/brain injury, and the Boston firm has some promising new agents for treating radiation injuries.

    The Center's program includes five projects and four research support cores. Dr. Moulder is a radiation biologist and leading national expert on research relating to the impact of radiation on human health. His research focuses on developing methods for the prevention and treatment of medical radiation injuries, and he will lead the kidney project. Mary Otterson, M.D., professor of surgery in gastrointestinal surgery at the Medical College, is associate director of the center and will lead the gut injury project. Meetha Medhora, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine in pulmonary medicine at the Medical College, will lead one lung project, Richard Hill, Ph.D., professor of radiation oncology at the University of Toronto will lead a second lung project, and Jae Ho Kim, M.D., PhD., professor of radiation oncology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit will lead the brain injury project.

    The program will be supported by four research cores:

  • An irradiation core, led by X. Allen Li, Ph. D., associate professor of radiation oncology at the Medical College,
  • A pilot grant program to develop new ideas led by Robert Truitt, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics in hematology/oncology at the Medical College
  • A training and education program led by Stephen Brown, Ph.D., of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
  • A drug development core, led by Susan Doctrow, Ph.D., vice president at Proteome systems.

    Source: Eurekalert & others

    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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