News Release

$9.42M federal agreement aims to develop non-invasive methods of detecting and preventing radiation exposures

Major federal research initiative has broad implications in clinical care, space exploration and occupational exposures

Grant and Award Announcement

Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Researchers with The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) have entered a federal cooperative agreement, valued up to $9.42 million, that will help them further develop Ohio State’s biodosimetry technology to discover noninvasive biomarkers for radiation exposure – work that will have national security applications. 

Naduparambil Jacob of the OSUCCC – James serves as principal investigator of this research effort in partnership with the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), an organization within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The agreement aligns with the IARPA’s stated mission to “push the boundaries of science to develop solutions that empower the intelligence community to do its work better and more efficiently for national security.” 

This new research cooperative agreement is organized through the IARPA’s Targeted Evaluation of Ionizing Radiation Exposure (IARPA – TEI-REX) program and includes four prime awardees, with Jacob serving as principal investigator of the OSU led program, where Battelle Memorial Institute is a sub-awardee.

“This work is particularly important because of the possible major health consequences of radiation exposure, including cancer and other illnesses,” said Jacob, an associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and a member of the OSUCCC – James Translational Therapeutics Research Program.

“Being able to determine the amount and range of exposure would help clinicians more quickly and accurately mitigate the short- and long-term effects of cumulative radiation exposure,” said Jacob.  

Under Jacob’s leadership, the OSUCCC – James team will work to develop rapid and accurate radiation biodosimetry solutions to human radiation exposure based on biomarkers that are detectable in skin and hair and that can be collected non-invasively.

The project expands upon ongoing efforts by OSUCCC – James scientists to develop blood biomarker-based mechanisms for early detection of acute radiation syndromes and delayed effects. 

In 2020, Jacob and colleagues published data demonstrating the effectiveness of a novel miRNA-based biodosimetry test devised to quickly diagnose radiation sickness based on biomarkers measured through a single drop of blood. This test was selected by NASA to help develop space exploration capabilities under Project Polaris, an initiative designed to meet the challenges of sending humans back to the moon and to Mars. 

Expanding research in radiation exposure

This new collaborative research effort is aimed at developing a non-invasive method to measure radiation exposure levels rapidly and accurately through biomarkers detectable in skin and hair, which could be especially useful and impactful in military settings.

While previous studies in this area have focused on blood biomarkers, this initiative will explore Raman spectroscopy and mass spectrometry-based methods and changes in the microbiome.

Scientists note that exposure to radiation through unintentional contact with radioactive material (e.g., natural environmental or occupational settings) or through intentional release of a radioactive material (e.g., terrorist attack) could lead to serious health problems.  

“Radioactive contamination released into the environment can take many forms with varying hazard levels. Some exposures may not present visible clinical signs, especially at lower dose range, yet have significant delayed consequences, and early detection and risk assessment would allow timely mitigation,” said Jacob.

Researchers will use specimens collected from laboratory models exposed to X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, electrons and protons for testing and validation. Specimens from irradiated non-human primates, radiotherapy patients and humans exposed to low-dose X-rays during CT scans will also be evaluated in the study. 

The IARPA funded project will support a multiple disciplinary team with up to 20 personnel from three different colleges within Ohio State and data scientists from Battelle Memorial Institute for the next 42 months.


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