Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, U.S. security officials have worried about the possibility of a nuclear or radiological "dirty bomb" exploding in a highly populated area. In case the threat ever comes to fruition, researchers at Duke are working to mitigate the effects of an attack.
Duke researchers received a $3.7 million contract from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, which could bring the university up to $43.6 million if the government renews the contract.
A group led by John Chute, associate professor of medicine, is developing and testing a method for rapidly screening thousands of people in the wake of an attack to determine their levels of radiation exposure. People suffering from radiation injuries can survive and recover if they are promptly and properly treated.
Chute has found that radiation exposure causes a characteristic pattern of expression in twenty-five genes he has identified and that this "signature" can diagnose how much radiation a person has been exposed to with greater than 90 percent accuracy.
The end product of the research will be a portable, thirty-minute test for radiation injury that can be used to triage thousands of individuals in a short time following a radiological or nuclear attack. Researchers hope to have a prototype ready by 2012.