When attached to a nanotube delivery system, the same stuff that keeps Wonder Bread fresh is 5,000 times more effective than anything available in preventing radiation sickness, according to a trio of Texas researchers.
Jim Tour of Rice University and two colleagues from other Houston health institutions have found that common food preservatives BHA and BHT prevent radiation sickness in mice. Exposure to radiation can disrupt cells by "freeing molecules from their chemical bonds and allowing them to run amok inside the nucleus," the Houston Chroniclereported.
The "free radicals" destroy the cell's DNA, which kills the cell and prevents it from dividing. The result is slow death. But to be effective, the preservatives have to get inside the cells, where they can flush free radicals before they shut down the organs.
To do that, the researchers attached them to carbon nanotubes, "single layers of carbon atoms curved into tiny cylinders, which, because of their size, provided a perfect vehicle for traversing the body's arteries and entering cells," they were quoted as saying. "The same properties that make BHA and BHT good food preservatives, namely their ability to scavenge free radicals, also make them good candidates for mitigating the biological affects that are induced through the initial ionizing radiation event," Tour said.
Needless to say, the Department of Defense is very interested. So much so that it gave Tour, who directs Rice's Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory, a $540,000 grant for his research, while asking him to speed it up.
About half the deaths from a large nuclear blast would result from the initial explosion. Radiation medication would benefit victims in a fallout zone after a nuclear attack as well as first responders. It could also help cancer patients recover from radiation therapy, the team said.
Tour wants to take the research to the next stage by developing a pill that can be taken after exposure to radiation. Meanwhile, if you're concerned about your rad intake, Purdue University is developing a radiation-detecting cell phone. Or maybe it's easier to just eat your Wonder Bread.