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ASU leads $40M effort to assess radiation exposures

December 28, 2009

Arizona State University will lead a $40.8 million, multi-institutional research program to develop systems that would rapidly measure an individual’s level of exposure to radiation in the event of a radiological or nuclear incident. In the event of a large-scale disaster, such a system would ensure that first responders have the information necessary to provide appropriate medical treatment.

The five-year contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) emphasizes the development of prototypes that would enable more rapid triage of patients than is currently possible.

“With the proliferation of advanced radiological materials in hospitals, clinics or nuclear facilities throughout the world, the risks and threats of a ‘dirty bomb’ incident or similar nuclear disaster remains very real,” said Carl Yamashiro, Ph.D.,the principal investigator at ASU’s Biodesign Institute who will direct the effort. “We have assembled a dream team of institutions and companies to catalyze our team’s research and discovery efforts, and translate the advances into a field-deployable technology.”

ASU will oversee the research program management, coordination and integration necessary for efficient and effective development of the system.

“Arizona State University has focused its world-class research enterprise on solving many of the most serious problems facing humanity,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “This award recognizes our leadership in research that involves the coordinated effort of a large, multidisciplinary, complex scientific skill set and our capability of delivering on this technological promise to the ultimate benefit of society.”

The specific goal of the project is to deliver a Biodosimetry Assay System that would assess the amount of ionizing radiation an individual had absorbed in the event of exposure. Currently, no rapid, high-throughput system exists to measure the radiation dose of individuals within a large population.

This effort builds on the achievements of a five-year, $25 million Center for Medical Countermeasures Against Radiation (CMCR), led by Columbia University Medical Center and involving research by ASU. The CMCR was one of eight established by the National Institutes of Health in 2005 in response to increased concerns about radiological disasters from terrorism and illicit trafficking of radioactive materials. CMCR efforts helped identify promising technologies for assessing radiation exposure in individuals, and the new funding supports development of prototypes based on these assessments.

Arizona State will integrate the activities of seven other prestigious institutions and companies in completing the project, each of which brings distinct capabilities in research, development or manufacturing: the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), Columbia University, High Throughput Genomics, Inc., Tecan U.S., Inc., University of Arizona, Scottsdale Healthcare Research Institute, and the University of Illinois, Chicago.

The ASU-led project, called the Integrated Biodosimetry System, is one of nine awards made by BARDA. Each awardee has identified particular physical or biological characteristics, known as biomarkers, to indicate how much radiation a person has absorbed.

The Integrated Integrated Biodosimetry System utilizes a biomarker signature set based on gene expression markers. This set of markers will provide a distinct indicator for the level of absorbed radiation. The system will be capable of analyzing 2,000 blood samples in a day with an 8-hour turnaround for individual measurements to enable appropriate medical triage.

“The beauty of our system is its versatility,” said Yamashiro. “Not only will we be developing a system for the effective response to a nuclear or radiologic event that could affect a large population but the high-throughout platform can also be used to advance genomics testing and other routine laboratory procedures measuring gene expression levels.”

 TGen, Columbia University, University of Arizona's College of Medicine Phoenix, in partnership with ASU, Scottsdale Healthcare Research Institute, and University of Illinois, Chicago will work together to optimize and verify the biomarker signature set. High Throughput Genomics, Inc., will provide the fundamental assay platform using a system they developed for gene expression measurements, and they will manufacture the reagents necessary for this assay. Tecan U.S., Inc., will work with University of Arizona in developing the prototype system. In addition to its oversight role, Arizona State University work with the Food and Drug Administration on the implementation of a prototype once it has been demonstrated to perform the desired tasks.