Apr 282010

A device in development at Duke University could one day use blood samples to rapidly measure radiation levels in victims of a radiological “dirty bomb” attack, the Associated Press reported yesterday (see GSN, Sept. 14, 2009).

Although potentially lifesaving countermeasures are available to treat radiation poisoning, no sufficiently fast method exists to spot signs of hazardous radiation exposure in individuals beyond the immediate vicinity of a dirty bomb attack, said John Chute, a blood specialist at the North Carolina institution.

Chute found genetic signs in the immune cells of cancer patients that indicate with 94 percent accuracy whether the patients had received radiation treatment. Now, the scientist is investigating possible means of determining the amounts of radiation to which patients were exposed.

A machine now in development for DNA testing in criminal investigations could speed up the analysis of blood for radiation, a process that now takes several days. In the aftermath of an attack, emergency crews could deploy numerous devices, which could each possibly test several dozen blood samples each hour.

An initial machine could be ready for rapid blood testing by 2012, Chute said, who is set to receive up to $43 million in federal funding over five years for the project (Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press/Google News, April 26).