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UAMS gets $3.4M grant to study radiation effects on human immune system

By: - August 24, 2022 7:00 pm

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has received $3.4 million to study injuries caused by radiation exposure from a nuclear accident or bioterrorism, according to a press release. 

The funds come from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health and will be used to study possible therapies that will reduce radiation side effects in the human body. While the FDA has approved some drugs to alleviate bone marrow injuries in people exposed to radiation, no drugs are available to treat the adverse effects in other organ systems, the release says. 

The five-year study entitled, “Platelets in Radiation-induced Immune Dysregulation,” is led by Rupak Pathak, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Division of Radiation Health in the UAMS College of Pharmacy; Martin Cannon, Ph.D., professor of Microbiology and Immunology in the UAMS College of Medicine; and Jerry Ware, Ph.D., professor of Physiology and Cell Biology in the UAMS College of Medicine.  

“Research is greatly needed to understand the complex biology that occurs following radiation exposure,” Pathak said. “This work will identify therapeutic targets to minimize radiation sickness following exposure to high levels of radiation.”

Pathak said researchers think they can find “countermeasures” to radiation poisoning “by studying how platelets moderate immune response.”

Platelets, which help form blood clots or stop bleeding, also regulate immune function by binding directly to immune cells or releasing small particles, called platelet-derived micro-particles. Preliminary studies have shown links between radiation exposure, platelets and the immune response.

“We know that platelets have a couple of pathways that might influence radiation damage,” said Cannon. “We want to understand how to regulate those pathways and lessen the inflammatory response. In very simple terms, we’re looking for the on and off switch.”

 Radiation-induced immune damage often causes injury to the heart and intestine. The team will study if damage can be reduced or blocked in these organs by modifying the functions of immune cells or platelets, or by altering platelet-immune cells interaction. 

Co-investigators on the study also include:

  •       Marjan Boerma, Ph.D., professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Division of Radiation Health, UAMS College of Pharmacy
  •       Ruofei Du, Ph.D., assistant professor, UAMS Department of Biostatistics
  •       Yunmei Wang, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
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Sonny Albarado
Sonny Albarado

In his nearly 50-year career, Sonny Albarado has been an investigations editor, a business editor, a city editor, an environmental reporter and a government reporter at newspapers in Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana. Most recently, he retired from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after serving as projects editor for 12 ½ years. He got his start in journalism as editor of the Nicholls Worth, the student newspaper at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1973. Nicholls awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters in 2014.

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