[ RadSafe ] Cleansing nuclear fallout from the body
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Wed Nov 15 18:38:20 CST 2006
Cleansing nuclear fallout from the body
Nov. 13, 2006
Courtesy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and World Science staff
A U.S. government researcher is studying ways to clea nse the body
of nuclear fallout, using a chemical from crab and prawn shells.
As concerns over nuclear proliferation grow, so do worries that
an attacker could set off a suitcase-sized bomb in a major city.
That would spread radioactive material over a wide area,
exposing victims to various radioactive elements. Some of
these can find their way into the body, where they keep producing
radiation for years and often cause cancer.
There are no effective methods known to purge the body of this
material, scientists say, although they have made some headway on
treatments that temper its effects.
Tatiana Levitskaia of the Pacific Northwest National
Laboratory in Richland, Wash., is researching a new approach.
It’s based on a widely available material, chitosan, found in
The substance, which is nontoxic, is a chelator, or compound that
attaches itself to metallic atoms. Coincidentally, the word
“chelator” itself has crabby origins; it’s derived from the Greek
chele, or claw, because the chemical attachment mechanism is
reminiscent of a lobster- or crab-like grasping action.
Chitosan can also be chemically modified to enhance its ability
to clasp radioactive atoms, Levitskaia said. Many of the
radioactive elements in nuclear fallout are metals,
including plutonium, uranium, strontium and cobalt.
Chitosan is also easily expelled from the body, and scientists
speculate that after linking to the radioactive substances it
could take them with it. That would prevent their buildup in the
bones, liver, kidneys and other organs.
For now, Levitskaia is investigating the effectiveness of
chitosan and similar substances in removing cobalt from
laboratory rats. She reported on her research at the national
meeting of the American Chemical Society in mid-September,
saying results are expected this fall.
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