Diffusing The Threat Of Ionizing Radiation

Ionizing radiation can be a silent killer.

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Graphic provided by DARPA

While scientists have made some strides in preventing immediate death from exposure, there are currently few intervention technologies to protect against long-term morbidity and mortality.

In light of the diverse, persistent and substantial threat posed by ionizing radiation, the Department of Defense seeks new ways to protect military and civilian personnel against the immediate and longer-term effects of acute exposure.

Exposure to ionizing radiation would be a particular concern in the aftermath of a large-scale release of nuclear material, such as might occur following either a natural disaster or a deliberate attack. The damage to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake raised concerns regarding U.S. preparedness to treat large-scale human exposure to ionizing radiation.  Additionally, the immediate destructive potential of nuclear and radiological weapons, as well as their long-term health and economic impacts, continue to be of concern to DoD.

DARPA seeks to gain a better understanding of the biophysical effects of acute exposure to ionizing radiation in humans and develop mitigating technologies to enable immediate and long-term survival.

special notice posted to FBO.gov requests information on novel therapies, methods, devices, protocols, compounds and systems related to these goals. This input will help to inform a potential new DARPA program focused on demonstrating novel methods for safeguarding the health of humans exposed to large doses of ionizing radiation over a range of temporal and spatial scales.

“Researchers have had some success in developing treatments to prevent near-term death from acute ionizing radiation sickness, but there’s still a lot to be learned about specifically how the chronic effects of exposure play out within the body,” said Mildred Donlon, a program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office.

“We’re hopeful that with increased understanding the immediate treatments for exposure can be made more effective and that we can develop novel therapies and strategies for enhancing long-term survival.”

“There are many facets to this challenge and DARPA needs input from many fields so that we can find the synergies that may exist at the boundaries between fields. If we’re successful in this research, we might be able to limit at least some of the destructive power of ionizing radiation.”

Of particular interest for this request for information (RFI) are novel combinations of approaches that will both ensure survival against the acute toxic effects of exposure to ionizing radiation and minimize its longer-term effects. Attention should be paid to the health consequences of large-scale exposure and the effectiveness of possible mitigations in that context.

Respondents may also address the potential for maximizing the time window for treatment (as measured from time of exposure), while still achieving maximum long-term survival. An expanded list of desired research topic areas is described in the RFI.

Information from a few key specialties like biophysics, radiobiology and nuclear science, among others, could prove invaluable to establishing a baseline of current knowledge to inform the potential DARPA program and could lead to new areas of research.

Responses are encouraged from all capable sources, including, but not limited to: universities, university-affiliated research centers, not-for-profit research institutions, U.S. Government-sponsored labs and private or public companies. Presentation of preliminary data that demonstrates the feasibility of a new idea is encouraged.

Speculative concepts with insight into practical application are encouraged, especially where they represent a significant advance over current capabilities. Intellectual property and privileged or proprietary information contained in responses will not be distributed outside of the Department of Defense or U.S. Government employees from other government agencies working with DARPA on this RFI.

Based on submissions, respondents may be invited to attend a workshop to discuss their ideas and comment on strategies for reducing ionizing radiation risk.

Story and information provided by DARPA

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