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Acute radiation exposure may seem like an intractable problem, quickly evolving and leading to an unpleasant end. Yet antibiotics (particularly fluoroquinolone antibiotics like ciprofloxacin) have been known to help ward off infections if neutropenia develops soon after exposure. Now DARPA is reporting that a research project it's sponsoring has resulted in a potential new treatment that combines antibiotics with bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein (BPI) to achieve significant survivability to what otherwise would be lethal doses (so far at least in mice).
The treatment has shown to be effective up to a day after exposure, substantially increasing the window of opportunity to help affected patients.
From the announcement:
"The fact that this treatment can be administered up to a day after radiation exposure is so important," said Millie Donlon, DARPA's program manager for this effort. "This is because most of the existing treatments we have require they be administered within hours of exposure to potentially lethal radiation -- something that might not always be possible in the confusion that would likely follow such an exposure event." Humans are known to be more sensitive than mice to the endotoxins treated by BPI, making a treatment such as this potentially more effective in humans. These are commonly used drugs that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in other scenarios such as bone marrow transplants and radiation treatment. They also have a long shelf life, making them easy to stockpile for future use.
Researchers have yet to determine why the combination of BPI and antibiotics work so well together. They've found, however, that mice that received both of these drugs not only had higher survival rates, but also started generating new blood cells more quickly. This has potential for positive impact on many logistical considerations tied to radiation exposure, such as need for hospital time and requirements for donors and transfusions.
No word on what institution conducted the research.
This post also appears on medGadget, an Atlantic partner site.
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