Research Team Awarded $2.4 Million for Radiation Treatment Study

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The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has awarded $2.4 million to Radhakrishna Rao, PhD, vice chair and professor in the Department of Physiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, to develop medical countermeasures to treat gastrointestinal acute radiation syndrome.

Radhakrishna Rao, PhD

Radiation exposure due to large-scale nuclear incidents is a global concern. Gastrointestinal acute radiation syndrome is associated with severe morbidity (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.) and high mortality. With no FDA-approved therapeutics for the syndrome, understanding how radiation causes tissue injury is a high priority in identifying targets to develop medical countermeasures.

The gut microbiome, consisting of trillions of microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract, is involved in functions critical to health and well-being. Radiation alters gut microbiome composition and functions, leading to the development of gastrointestinal acute radiation syndrome. Dr. Rao’s goal is to identify intestinal radio-protective microbiota and understand how they prevent and mitigate radiation injury. His team aims to develop gut microbiome-targeted medical countermeasures to treat radiation injury.

“With our knowledge from nuclear disasters in Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima Daiichi in 2011, and the nuclear risk in the current Ukraine war, it is necessary to develop therapeutics to treat radiation injury,” Dr. Rao said. “We are excited about our finding from studies in animal models that feeding Lactobacillus species 24 hours after irradiation could mitigate gut injury, endotoxemia, and systemic inflammation.”

Collaborators on the project are Sue Chin Lee, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Physiology; Francesco Giorgianni, PhD, in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences; Fridtjof Thomas, PhD, professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine; and Laurentia Nodit, MD, professor in the Department of Pathology.