NUI Galway Involved in European Radiation Research
NUI Galway is one of the partners in a new European multi-million euro research project, investigating methods of screening radiation exposure. The project known as BOOSTER (Bio Dosimetric Tools for Triage and Responders) is an EU initiative to increase the security of citizens in the event of the malevolent use of radiation which focuses on speeding up the triaging process, which is the prioritisation of victims for treatment immediately following exposure to radiation.
The € 3.5 million project will have a duration of three years, (2010-2013). The new tools for screening radiation will be developed and integrated into a toolkit for the first responders in EU member states to use. The authorities responsible for responding to emergency situations vary. The task may fall to fire services, civil defence or occasionally the military.
To determine the amount of radiation to which a person has been exposed, standard practice involves taking blood or another bodily fluid, looking at it under a microscope and documenting changes in chromosomes. This process typically takes up to three days to yield results and is very labour intensive. Since 2004, researchers in Biochemistry at NUI Galway have been working to reduce the period of time it takes to determine the amount of radiation to which a person is exposed. This work will now feed into phase one of the project.
By counting the centrosomes, which are sub-cellular structures that control how cells divide and which multiply after irradiation, it is hoped that it will be possible to reduce the waiting time for results to less than one day.
Dr Ciaran Morrison, a senior lecturer in the Centre for Chromosome Biology, who is leading the project at NUI Galway, explains: “There is urgency in triaging people exposed to radiation because it is necessary to quickly identify those who need no further intervention, those who will require close follow up, and those who will require hospitalisation. Serious exposure to large amounts of radiation can cause death in a short space of time, so rapid triaging is critical”.
Automation of the process to reduce labour intensity is another facet of the project, endeavouring to prepare the system for semi-industrial quantities of people, to cope with the event of a large-scale civilian disaster such as a nuclear power plant explosion. A more efficient process would also have applications for employees working in an environment where regular exposure to radiation is likely and civilian surveillance necessary.
Dr Ciaran Morrison added: “It is exciting to see that the basic cell biology research we have done at NUI Galway, funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board, can have a wide range of unanticipated applications in the real world”.