Radiation and Nuclear Countermeasures Program

The Radiation and Nuclear Countermeasures Program (RNCP) is a program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Institutes of Health. The program is coordinated by the NIAID.

Why is the Study of Radiation Countermeasures a Priority for NIAID?

Over the past decade, and especially since September 11, 2001, the growing threat of terrorism has become a primary national security priority. There has also been increased awareness that terrorists might employ unconventional tactics and weapons, including weapons of mass destruction such as radiological or nuclear devices.

The number of known terrorist organizations with a global reach and the increased rate of proliferation and transfer of technical information through the Internet raise the possibility that more attacks with chemical, biological, radiological, or even nuclear weapons may occur in the years to come. To respond to these threats, the federal government is committed to increasing the availability of medical countermeasures that could be used in the aftermath of an attack involving the release of radioactive material.

How Is NIAID Addressing This Critical Topic?

NIAID is the lead Institute within NIH for the development of medical countermeasures to mitigate/treat radiation injuries.  NIAID is tasked with developing a robust research program to accelerate the development and deployment of new approaches through grants, cooperative agreements and contracts as well as scientific meetings of its many programs. Read more about how NIAID is addressing this critical topic.

Scientific Background

When a radioactive atom decays, it releases radiation. Radiation released from radioactive material is ionizing, which means that it can strip electrons from compounds with which it interacts, including living tissue. This can lead to serious injuries to different organ systems, and even death.  The effects of external radiation on the body may appear within minutes (acute radiation syndrome) or develop many years after exposure (delayed effects of acute radiation exposure).  In general, exposure to higher doses of radiation produce symptoms more rapidly.

Strategic Planning

The approach to the strategic planning process used to develop the NIH Strategic Plan and Research Agenda for Medical Countermeasures Against Radiological and Nuclear Threats, released in 2005, was to identify the critical gaps in knowledge and capabilities, and then to set goals for the development of medical countermeasures that could be broadly applied in many situations.  Progress made in achieving these goals was provided in 2012, with the publication of the Strategic Plan and Research Agenda for Medical Countermeasures against Radiological and Nuclear Threats Progress Report:  2005-2011 and Future Directions: 2012-2016.

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. 

Focused Product Development

Some currently-available drugs as well as approaches undergoing testing in pre-clinical models of radiation injury have shown great promise as mitigators/treatments, improving survival and enhancing other indicators such as levels of immune and other blood cells. Learn more about focused product development.

Infrastructure for Research and Product Development

Since the program’s inception, the primary mechanism to support infrastructure enhancement has been the Centers for Medical Countermeasures Against Radiation Consortium (CMCRC), which has helped to expand both the physical and human infrastructure devoted to radiation countermeasures research. Initially awarded in 2005, the CMCRCs are now in their third iteration, with four current centers. 

Funding Opportunities

The Centers for Medical Countermeasures against Radiation (CMCRC) are now accepting applications for pilot projects focused on practical approaches for radiation biodosimetry or the development of agents for the mitigation of acute or late radiation effects. Learn about the latest funding opportunity and how to apply.

Content last reviewed on October 21, 2016