Saturday, March 15, 2008

Is this a good idea?

The other night as I was going to bed, I was reading Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly publication that everyone who is a member of the American Chemical Society automatically gets, hoping that it would put me to sleep. I came across an article that woke me up instead. The focus of the article was on biotech companies that are for the most part "virtual". What this means is that they outsource almost all of the physical work, while maintaining the underlying intellectual property. The particular company featured is scaling up production of an anti-radiation poisoning drug that would be sold to the military. Their drug is a protein, a fragment of the bacterial protein flagelin, which is involved in bacterial mobility. In human cells, this protein fragment will interfere with the action of NF-kB, a signaling molecule that is plays a role in apoptosis, or cell suicide.

When cells are exposed to high levels of radiation, the apoptotic pathway kicks in, essentially sacrificing the cell. What this drug would do is block cell suicide. One of the scientists involves claims "If you prevent it for 10 days or so, cells will restore themselves naturally to their original state, even when exposed to lethal doses of radiation". Maybe I'm missing something here, but I'm pretty sure that the "natural state" would involve cells with DNA that is severely mutated, the kinds of cells that are prone to become cancerous tumors.

So a soldier, exposed to a normally lethal dose of radiation, injects himself with this drug for ten days and survives, only to face a high probability of suffering from a variety of cancers for the rest of his (probably short) life. Why is this a good idea?

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About Me

I'm a biochemist at a small college.