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NIAID Pledges $21M for Radiation Countermeasures; Seeks Biomarkers, Dx Tools

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases plans to provide $21 million next year to support a network of research centers that will develop medical countermeasures, including biomarkers and diagnostics tools, for radiological or nuclear emergencies.

NIAID said in a funding announcement it plans to support between five and seven centers, each with up to $3.5 million per year, to pursue basic and translational research projects aimed at developing tools to assess, diagnose, mitigate, or treat the short-term and long-term consequences of radiation exposures.

The investigators who receive funding under the Centers for Medical Countermeasures against Radiation Consortium (CMCRC) will pursue biomarkers for tissue damage and recovery, create new techniques and devices for measuring radiation exposure in the body, and develop novel therapies to minimize tissue damage, hasten recovery time, restore normal physiological function, and improve survival.

Radiation exposure presents complex clinical problems for treatment and diagnosis, NIAID said. Predicting how radiation exposure will manifest and how severe its symptoms will be is difficult, and it and can take days or weeks, and in some cases months or years, for some injuries to have an impact on the body. Individual sensitivity to radiation also may vary, and the severity of injuries to individual organs and tissues also varies. Existing biodosimetry techniques offer little capability to distinguish these variables, and they do not predict the severity of injury.

Diagnostics tools that can account for such variables could make it easier for clinicians to treat exposed tissues and organs. For these reasons, NIAID said, "there is a critical unmet need to develop radiation-exposure biomarkers and devices that will predict the early and/or delayed damage to specific organs and tissues to facilitate precise and timely medical intervention, reduce morbidity, and save lives.

The CMCRC will be one part of NIAID's larger radiation countermeasures program, which has already supported a number of research and development projects focused on medical countermeasures for treating and assessing acute radiation syndromes and assessing, mitigating, or treating radiation injuries.

In the new funding announcement, NIAID did not specify any particular biomarker types the centers will investigate. The institute's 2011 radiation exposure research program funded efforts to develop biomarkers to measure or characterize gene and protein expression, DNA or protein modifications, metabolomic or lipidomic changes, or cytogenetic, inflammatory, biochemical, and other changes.