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Radiation and Nuclear Countermeasures Program

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Radiation Biodosimetry Research and Development Goals

National Institutes of Health Goals for Biodosimetry

Immediate Goals

  • Support rigorous quality assurance/quality control studies of current leading biodosimetry technologies to validate their use
  • Increase the speed and efficiency of current assays to determine radiation doses received due to internal or external contamination with radioactive material

Long-Term Goals

  • Develop new bioassays that can provide rapid and accurate radiation dose assessments, enabling optimal triage and medical management
  • Develop biodosimetry tools and assays to evaluate radiation-related injury and the recovery process in different physiological systems
  • Develop and validate methods to estimate radiation dose and future risk following exposure to radioactive material by various routes, including inhalation, ingestion, skin contact, or contamination of wounds

Current Radiation Biodosimetry Technology

In the aftermath of an incident in which a significant number of civilians are exposed to radiation or radioactive materials, health authorities will need to be able to rapidly identify individuals who are contaminated externally with radioactive material, have incorporated radioactive material into their bodies, or have been exposed to medically significant doses of radiation. Detecting radioactive contamination is the easier task, because powerful technologies for detection and quantitation of even small amounts of radioactive materials already exist. For example, Geiger counters or doorframe/portal monitors can detect the presence of many radioactive materials and can thus help to identify individuals who must be decontaminated immediately after any necessary medical stabilization of trauma or burn injury. Monitoring of blood or urine samples for radioactivity also can be used to reveal the presence of internalized radioactive material.

Although radioactive material can be detected with instruments, assessment of the dose of radiation a person has already received, such as from gamma radiation released by the detonation of a nuclear device, is more difficult. Radiation exposure can be assessed through clinical history, signs, symptoms, and laboratory tests such as lymphocyte counts and dicentric chromosome assays. These methods are not currently adequate for a mass-casualty scenario as signs and symptoms can be misleading and laboratory tests are time-consuming and expensive.

Research Agenda for Radiation Biodosimetry

NIH plans to pursue the goals in this research area primarily through the Centers for Medical Countermeasures Against Radiation program. Examples of research and development areas to be addressed in these centers include

  • Off-the-shelf products, such as computer-run robotic systems to automate current biodosimetry assays
  • New biodosimetry devices and techniques
  • New biomarker assays

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Last Updated April 07, 2010