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Biodosimetry Helps Detect Radiosensitive Individuals – Interim Results of an IAEA Coordinated Research Project

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Automatic image acquisition for karyotyping (Metafer 4) used in Hiroshima University to quantify chromosomal breaks after CT scan procedure. (Photo: RIRBM/Hiroshima University)

Biodosimetry – the measurement of biological response to radiation – plays an important role in the detection of radiosensitive individuals who may require radiation procedures, according to interim results of an IAEA coordinated research project (CRP).

Biological dosimetry, or biodosimetry for short, can help accurately reconstruct the dose of radiation received by an individual by using biological markers, for example, in their blood, to visualize chromosomal abnormalities caused by radiation in white blood cells called lymphocytes.

The IAEA initiated a CRP on the‘Applications of biological dosimetry methods in radiation oncology, nuclear medicine, diagnostic and interventional radiology’ in 2017. The project has attracted 31 institutions from 28 countries, making it the largest CRP conducted in the area of human health, reflecting the importance of this area of research.

Biodosimetry is one of the most developed branches of radiobiology; its technical aspects are well refined and have reached the level of international standardization.

This project was initiated upon the request of experts from around the world to gain a better understanding of biodosimetry and how it can be applied to improve clinical radiation medical practice. It follows from a project from 2012-2017,  which was dedicated to improving biodosimetry techniques and intensifying collaboration among institutes worldwide.

The current CRP aims to strengthen and enhance the scope of biodosimetry, fill gaps in knowledge and develop new approaches to assist with the transition to personalized medicine, with progress outlined in a 2019 paper published in the Radiation Protection Dosimetry journal.

With one year still left before the closing of this CRP, this project has already provided significant findings showing that biodosimetry could help radiation medicine specialists improve clinical outcomes in their daily practice,
May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Human Health

PNA-FISH analysis with of chromosome breaks: dicentric chromosomes are indicated with white arrows. Raw images of DNA (A), telomere (B) and centromere (C) are shown.

(D) Merged images of DNA, telomere and centromere in blue, green and red, respectively. (Photo: Kinugasa Y./RIRBM, Hiroshima University)

One of the CRP groups from Hiroshima University, Japan, lead by Prof Satoshi Tashiro, demonstrated in a 2018 paper that standard biodosimetric methods could detect chromosomal breaks in human lymphocytes after a single computed tomography (CT) scan procedure.

A recent paper published in May 2020 from the same group showed that the low-dose chest CT scans used in lung cancer screening do not appear to damage human DNA. The results could help allay fears that such screenings will lead to an increase in radiation-induced cancer. This finding was noted in the editorial of radiation research expert Prof David Brenner, Director of the Center for Radiological Research, Columbia University, New York, USA. He commented on the necessity to estimate cancer risk related to diagnostic and therapeutic radiation procedures; and that radiosensitive individuals should be identified before prescribing radiation treatment to them.

“Based on the findings like these in this CRP, there is significant evidence that biodosimetry can provide much-needed new information,” said Oleg Belyakov, Radiation Biologist at the IAEA and project coordinator. “We have obtained promising interim results, partially highlighted in next issue of the Health Physics journal, that can guide the future of radiation medicine, the radiation protection of patients and ultimately the quality of health care using radiation technologies.”

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