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April 3, 2007

Blood Test Determines Radiation Exposure through Genes

  • Scientists at Duke University Medical Center report that they have developed a blood test to rapidly detect levels of radiation exposure.

    The new test scans thousands of genes from a blood sample to identify distinct genomic signatures reflecting varying radiation doses. Patients can then be identified according to whether they received no exposure to radiation, an intermediate level of exposure that may respond to medical therapies, or an inevitably lethal dose.

    Researchers subjected mice to low, intermediate, and high doses of radiation and looked for the impact of each dose on specific genes in the blood. They found that each dose resulted in distinct profiles that represented 75–100 genes that could be used to predict the degree of exposure.

    The study also analyzed blood from human patients receiving bone marrow transplants who were treated with high doses of radiation prior to transplant. The team says they found specific gene profiles that distinguished the individuals that were exposed to radiation from those that were not with a 90% accuracy.

    “These findings could point to new treatments for victims of a radiological catastrophe,” says lead study investigator Holly K. Dressman, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular genetics at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy. “By identifying genes that are major players in the response to radiation, we hope to compile a list of future targets for protection against its harmful effects.”

    The findings are published in the April 3, 2007, issue of Public Library of Science  Medicine.