"More than half of those who suffer acute radiation injury die within 30 days, not from the initial radioactive particles themselves but from the devastation they cause in the immune system, the gastrointestinal tract and other parts of the body," said James Tour, Rice's Chao Professor of Chemistry, director of Rice's Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory (CNL) and principal investigator on the grant. "Ideally, we'd like to develop a drug that can be administered within 12 hours of exposure and prevent deaths from what are currently fatal exposure doses of ionizing radiation."
To form Nanovector Trojan Horses (NTH), Rice scientists coat nanotubes with two common food preservatives -- the antioxidant compounds butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) -- and derivatives of those compounds. "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. In preliminary tests at M.D. Anderson in July 2007, mice showed enhanced protection when exposed to lethal doses of ionizing radiation when they were given first-generation NTH drugs prior to exposure. Tour said the researchers are also interested in finding out whether the new drugs can prevent the unwanted side effects that cancer patients suffer after undergoing radiation therapy.