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Radiation and Nuclear Countermeasures Program

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Basic and Translational Research

NIH Goals for Basic and Translational Research

Immediate Goals

  • Understand the effects of different levels of radiation exposure, with special emphasis on the moderate dose range
  • Define the mechanisms of radiation injury, including secondary responses and multi-system injury
  • Determine mechanisms of protection, mitigation, and treatment
  • Identify appropriate hierarchical animal models

Long-Term Goals

  • Understand radiation injury at the molecular and cellular level, including the role of inflammation, neuroimmune interactions, endothelial injury, and other factors that influence the pathophysiological manifestations of radiation injury
  • Identify new drug candidates and accelerate the transition from candidate to product
  • Continue to support research on long-term effects of radiation exposure, including epidemiological and longitudinal medical studies of individuals exposed to radiation

Current Status of Basic and Translational Research

The creation and acquisition of new and effective medical countermeasures for radiation injuries among the civilian population will require basic research to expand the knowledge base, as well as translational research to begin the transformation of fundamental knowledge gained into product development. Fortunately, a significant research base already exists. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has had a longstanding interest in the health effects of ionizing radiation on military personnel, and has sought ways to protect its forces from radiation and radioactive material released by nuclear weapons; however, funding for these research efforts has declined since the end of the Cold War. Several civilian government agencies support longitudinal epidemiologic studies to assess long-term health risks to X-ray technicians exposed to low-dose radiation, civilians exposed to nuclear weapons test fallout, survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and subpopulations near Chernobyl, Ukraine. These studies will provide essential knowledge for the long-term followup of individuals who are exposed to radiation as the result of a terrorist incident. NIAID, the National Cancer Institute, and other agencies within HHS currently support research on the molecular and cellular aspects of low- and moderate-dose radiation exposure. Although this research has focused largely on therapeutic uses of ionizing radiation, the results and programs can be adapted to the development of countermeasures.

Research Agenda for Basic and Translational Research

NIH established a research centers program called Centers for Medical Countermeasures Against Radiation that will serve as a network of specialized research institutions working collaboratively to meet the goals of the NIH Strategic Plan and Research Agenda for Medical Countermeasures Against Radiological and Nuclear Threats in basic and translational research. Examples of research areas to be addressed include

  • Innate and adaptive immune system enhancement and reconstitution
  • Mechanisms of radiation injury and therapy at the systemic, organ, cell, and molecular levels; and identification and verification of potential targets for countermeasures for radiation injury
  • Mechanisms of secondary responses that mediate, exacerbate, or ameliorate damage and disease resulting from external or internal radiation exposure in different tissues
  • Long-term effects, such as cancer and fibrosis
  • New animal models and in vitro assays to test and evaluate promising countermeasures

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Last Updated September 19, 2005