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UTHSC’s Dr. Gabor Tigyi Draws International Attention for Promising Drug Candidate to Fight Radiation Exposure

Dr. Gabor Tigyi

There currently is no antidote for radiation injury. But Gabor Tigyi, MD, PhD, a professor and chair of the Department of Physiology in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), and his team have spent more than 15 years working on one.

Dr. Tigyi’s research team has developed a drug candidate that shows promise for use in treating victims of acute radiation sickness from nuclear disasters like the ones at the Fukushima (Japan, 2011) and Chernobyl (Soviet Union, 1986) nuclear power plants. It may also be useful in treating injuries suffered by cancer patients from radiation therapy.

Dr. Tigyi is the lead author of a paper about his latest radiation mitigator, DBIBB, which was published this month in the research journal Chemistry & Biology by Cell Press, and has drawn international attention.

“This drug candidate is modeled after a natural compound called lysophosphatidic acid, or LPA, that is produced in blood and promotes wound healing,” said Dr. Tigyi, the Harriet Van Vleet Professor of Physiology at UTHSC. Noticing that the same natural compound, a signaling molecule, is also generated by aggressive cancers that become resistant to radiation, the researcher and his team wondered if it could be useful in mitigating the symptoms of acute radiation sickness.

Stem cells of the bone marrow and the intestines are the two most-sensitive types of cells damaged by radiation. Radiation damages the DNA and triggers cell death.

“LPA and its analogs enhance DNA repair that is caused by ionizing radiation, arrest the progression of programmed cell death for a period of time to allow the cell to repair its DNA and heal itself, and promote cell growth, and consequently, tissue regeneration,” he said.

DBIBB, the latest and most potent radiation mitigating drug candidate developed by Dr. Tigyi and his team, has been found to protect mouse embryonic cells and human cord blood-derived, blood-forming stem cells from cell death induced by radiation. It has also been shown to increase survival of mice, even when the drug is started up to 72 hours after radiation exposure. Radiation protectors now on the market must be administered before exposure.

Ninety-three percent of mice treated with DBlBB were alive 30 days after radiation exposure at higher levels than are survivable by humans.

RxBio Inc., a biotech company founded by Dr. Tigyi and other UTHSC faculty, will continue development of DBIBB, just as they are already developing Rx100 – the first radiation mitigating compound to be discovered through UTHSC research.

“My colleagues and I hope that the real benefit and use of our compounds will not be as radiation countermeasures for first responders, the military and civilians, but in attenuating the side effects of the medical uses of radiation in cancer therapy,” Dr. Tigyi said. He also said the drug could be useful in protecting astronauts during space travel.

Links to some stories about DBIBB in the international media:

Materia, the science section of EL PAÍS, the world’s leading newspaper in Spanish: https://elpais.com/elpais/2015/01/22/ciencia/1421923637_070127.html

The International Business Times, digital global news publication: https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/nuclear-radiation-drugs-offer-protection-3-days-after-exposure-fallout-1484717

New Scientist Magazine in London: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26840-antiradiation-drug-could-work-days-after-exposure.html#.VMfcx2jF9ic