Biorad is the acronym used in our research project, where the main aim is to develop and validate a panel of biomarkers as a novel tool for the early detection of radiation exposure. This project is funded by NATO under the Science for Peace and Security Programme (SPS Programme, Project code MD.SFPP 984815) and involves the collaboration of researchers and physicians between Italy and Egypt. The project focuses its research activity on targeting the diagnosing effects that are included within the SPS key priority 1.d: “Defence against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) agents: methods and technology regarding the protection against, diagnosing effects, detection, decontamination, destruction, disposal and containment of CBRN agents”.

Early knowledge on dose levels in radiation accidents is of paramount importance for prompt intervention and risk assessment. If you consider a possible radiological or nuclear emergency, the medical facilities in charge would likely be overwhelmed by a large number of casualties to manage. Unfortunately, the current methods based on standard cytogenetic approaches such as dicentric chromosomes and micronuclei assays provide results only two or three days after the emergency. This means that a relatively long time is required for the results, making an appropriate management of the first phase of the emergency extremely difficult, where urgent triage decisions should be based on a much more rapid system. 

The time factor is effectively of crucial importance. An early screening of the absorbed dose would allow to differentiate between the unaffected or “worried-well” subjects, who can be sent home instantly, from those patients requiring medical evaluation and intervention. To solve this problem, a more appropriate and immediate biological dosimetry must be developed to replace the standard ones in the very early phase of intervention and management immediately after population exposure. 

Biomarkers are measurable indicators of some biological state or condition. Biomarkers capable of measuring radiation exposure in a short time are nowadays available but used alone are not considered reliable because they lack specificity or sensitivity. The focus of our research project is thus to develop a novel, fast, accurate and user-friendly screening method for detecting the absorbed dose within the first hours after exposure. The novel diagnostic tool will be based on different biological mechanisms, which permit to achieve the same degree of specificity and sensitivity of the established cytogenetic assays. The final biomarker set will measure genetic damage, oxidative stress and radio-sensitive proteins alteration. 

In order to be significant, these biomarkers will be first assessed by ENEA, the NATO-Country Project Director in this project, then validated in patients treated with increasing doses of radiation for therapeutic purposes in both the participating countries. Patients participating in this study are recruited at the Regina Elena National Cancer Institute IRE-IFO in Rome (Italy) and at the High Institute of Public Health of the Alexandria University - Main Teaching Hospital in Alexandria (Egypt).