An experimental drug helped protect mice and monkeys from the damaging effects of radiation, researchers in Chicago said on Thursday, in a finding that may result to less toxic cancer treatments or an emergency treatment for radiation exposure.
They said the drug protected the animals’ bone marrow and cells in the gut from being destroyed by radiation without interfering with radiation therapy’s ability to fight cancer.
“These tissues fail because these cells choose to commit suicide. Our idea was to block these suicidal intentions,” said Andrei Gudkov of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, who has written a study published in the journal Science.
Gudkov said radiation triggers cells to undergo a type of programmed cell death know as apoptosis, which aids in ridding the body of defective cells.
He and colleagues decided to study this mechanism to discover a way to protect cells from radiation damage. They were able to develop a compound known as CBLB502 made from a salmonella protein that naturally makes cells resistant to cell suicide.
A single dose of this drug given to the animals shortly before receiving radiation therapy significantly decreased damage to sensitive bone marrow and gastrointestinal cells and prolonged their survival.
The drug also improved survival of mice when given an hour after the animals received a dose of radiation.
“We can temporarily and reversibly convert normal cells into something which is resistant to radiation — but only for a couple of hours,” Gudkov said.
So far, Gudkov said the drug has been proven to have few toxic side effects. Gudkov said the company is hoping for U.S. regulatory approval to start testing the drug in healthy adults, which could start as early as this summer.
Just last week, the company won a $9 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop the treatment for radiation exposure.