Washington, Jan 28 : Scientists at Rice University have instigated a study funded by Department of Defense to determine the efficiency of a new drug based on carbon nanotubes, in preventing people from dying of acute radiation injury.
The nine-month long study has been commissioned after the initial tests found that the drug was more than 5,000 times effective at reducing the aftermath of acute radiation injury than the most effective drugs currently available.
James Tour, lead researcher and Rice's Chao Professor of Chemistry, director of Rice's Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory (CNL) said that most of the patients die from the devastation they cause in the immune system.
"More than half of those who suffer acute radiation injury die within 30 days, not from the initial radioactive particles themselves but from the devastation they cause in the immune system, the gastrointestinal tract and other parts of the body," said Tour.
"Ideally, we'd like to develop a drug that can be administered within 12 hours of exposure and prevent deaths from what are currently fatal exposure doses of ionizing radiation," he added.
The experimental drug, known as Nanovector Trojan Horses (NTH) is based on a single-walled carbon nanotubes, hollow cylinders of pure carbon that are about as wide as a strand of DNA.
The scientists then coated the tubes with two common food preservatives namely the antioxidant compounds butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and derivatives of those compounds.
"The same properties that make BHA and BHT good food preservatives, namely their ability to scavenge free radicals, also make them good candidates for mitigating the biological affects that are induced through the initial ionizing radiation event," said Tour.
The initial tests in July 2007 revealed that mice showed enhanced protection when exposed to lethal doses of ionizing radiation when they were given first-generation NTH drugs prior to exposure.