NIH funds Berkeley Lab research on defense against radiological attack

BERKELEY, CA -- Kenneth Raymond of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is the recipient of a $998,325 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), as principal investigator of a program to develop new agents for large scale radiological treatment of humans, for example in the aftermath of a "dirty bomb" attack. The grant is one of five awards announced today under the federal government's Project Bioshield. NIAID is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Raymond, a member of Berkeley Lab's Chemical Sciences Division (CSD) and a professor of chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley, heads a team including Pat Durbin-Heavey and David Shuh of CSD, Eleanor Blakely of Berkeley Lab's Life Sciences Division, and Polly Chang of SRI International.

"We're developing actinide-specific complexing agents for decontaminating people who may have been exposed to plutonium or similar radioactive substances," says Raymond. The goal of the NIAID-sponsored project is to test these agents with animals, which will be done by SRI International, and then proceed to clinical trials, all within 18 months.

Since joining Berkeley Lab in 1973, and UC Berkeley in 1967, part of Raymond's research has concentrated on finding chemical agents that can safely remove concentrations of poisonous metal ions from the human body. To do this he has designed chemical compounds modeled after those manufactured by bacteria and other microorganisms to transport iron. Raymond's synthetic agents bind tightly with plutonium and allow it to be passed through the kidneys and excreted out of the body, a process known as "decorporation." The agents may also prove useful for removing radioactive waste from the environment.

Raymond, former Chair of the Department of Chemistry of UC Berkeley, is the Director of CSD's Glenn T. Seaborg Center, which studies heavy element chemistry at the molecular level. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has won numerous major awards, including the Department of Energy's Ernest O. Lawrence Award.

In addition to the award to Raymond, NIAID has issued four other Project Bioshield awards, for a total $4 million dedicated to funding the development of products designed to eliminate radioactive materials from the human body resulting from radiological or nuclear exposure. The Project Bioshield research complements NIAID's medical countermeasures-development initiative to create safe and effective products of this type.

The other recipients are:

  • Raymond J. Bergeron of the University of Florida, Gainesville, $1 million
  • Tatiana G. Levitskaia of DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, $725,000
  • Scott C. Miller of the University of Utah School of Medicine, $675,000
  • Charles Timchalk of DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, $599,747

"These new grants will ultimately help identify new drug candidates that could be acquired by the strategic national stockpile of medical countermeasures that are available to help the public after a terrorist or nuclear attack or accidental radioactive exposure," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci.

The goal of the NIAID initiative is not to fund basic research but to use previously identified, promising compounds and accelerate their development into effective products that could be licensed for use, says program officer Bert Maidment, associate director of product development in NIAID's Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation.

In the event of an attack by nuclear explosive device or radiological dirty bomb, people could potentially inhale, ingest, or absorb through their skin radioactive substances, or radionuclides. Depending on the type of radionuclide that a person is exposed to, the particles may be excreted from the body or enter bones, organs or other tissues, which could have serious health consequences. Through an initiative announced in 2005, NIAID is working to speed the development of a series of products that can bind with (chelate) the radionuclides in the body and eliminate (decorporate) them from the body.

Radionuclide decorporation products currently are available in the strategic national stockpile, but NIAID is focusing on expanding the product pool, creating new treatments capable of eliminating a wider range of radionuclides, developing products that can eliminate radioactive material faster and in greater amounts; and developing products in formulations that could be distributed easier in a mass casualty situation.

NIAID issued the grants under authority provided by Project Bioshield, which was signed into law in 2004. Its enactment provided federal agencies with new tools to speed research on medical countermeasures to protect Americans against chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack.

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NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health. NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria and illness from potential agents of bioterrorism. NIAID also supports research on basic immunology, transplantation and immune-related disorders, including autoimmune diseases, asthma and allergies.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California. Visit our website at http://www.lbl.gov.


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