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Stem Cells and Radiation Sickness

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 20 Jan 2015 | comments*Discuss
Stem Cells Bone Marrow Radiation

Stem cell technology has garnered a great deal of attention and has been prominent in the area of medicine while providing the promise of significant applications for disease. Although many of these applications are still in the developmental stage and have yet to become a reality in the medical field, this has not prevented the United States military from researching the use of stem cells as a life-saving treatment in the event of a disastrous attack on their military. Such an attack might involve a nuclear explosion and military exposure to dangerous radiation.

Research to Support the Military

Earlier this year, the United States Department of Defense made a contract with two biotechnology organisations. The contract outlined the requirement for the organisations to create a treatment for radiation sickness. This treatment was to utilise stem cells that had been isolated from bone marrow in an adult. The treatment itself has been labelled Prochymal although it has yet to be approved. If it does gain approval, the United States will buy as much as twenty thousand dosages, which will result in an expenditure of nearly two hundred and twenty five million dollars.

How Does the Treatment Work?

The treatment relies on stem cells to essentially heal and repair the damage that skin sustains when a person suffers from radiation sickness. When a person is exposed to strong levels of radiation, the DNA found in cells within the gut and bone marrow are damaged. Even if a person is able to survive beyond the diarrhoea, bleeding in the stomach and extreme fluid loss due to damage of the intestinal lining, they could still die from an infection in the weeks to come. Their bone marrow is overwhelmed with providing sufficient white blood cells to combat the body's damage.

This stem cell treatment is still extremely new and in the experimental stages, but it is thought that it will restore the lining in the gut by repairing the damage. Prochymal is also purported to rejuvenate the blood and repair damage to the skin. After the stem cells are isolated, they can be expanded, allowing for thousands of doses to be produced from just one donation. These stem cells work to reduce inflammation that is responsible for a great deal of the tissue damage that happens after radiation exposure. Another benefit is that the stem cells also operate at a cellular level to encourage the formation of new tissue from the release of special growth factors.

Stem cells remain a promising treatment for many diseases. The new research developments in the area of radiation sickness suggest that Prochymal will be an effective treatment for addressing the critical consequences of radiation exposure to individuals in the military. In fact, the drug is also undergoing trials to test its efficacy at treating other diseases with similar clinical manifestations. Hopefully, the treatment will prove safe and successful, which should lead to approval by the Food and Drug Administration. It may also eventually be utilised in Britain for similar purposes. Either way, the development of this new stem cell therapy is another positive aspect of stem cells and will hopefully encourage more research into the treatment of radiation sickness and other conditions.

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