A quinic acid derivative, known as KZ-41, increases 30-day survival threefold compared with placebo when given to rats 24 hours after exposure to high levels of radiation.
The researchers hope that their drug, which mimics a chemical found in both blueberries and coffee, will eventually be used to treat people who have been exposed to high levels of radiation as a result of public health emergencies.
They also suggest that their drug may help overcome problems associated with oral or injectable treatments, such as extreme nausea and difficulties with administration, as it can be applied directly to the skin like a plaster.
"Development of drugs for individuals who are exposed to high-dose radiation in a public health emergency has been a priority since the 9/11 terrorist attacks," said researcher Charles Yates (University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, USA) in a press statement.
"The ultimate goal is wide dissemination of non-invasive treatments after 24 hours of a mass casualty."
Yates and colleagues compared the effects of one application of 100 mg/kg KZ-41 25 hours after exposure to lethal whole body radiation in rats with application of placebo on 30-day survival.
They found that KZ-41 significantly improved survival; at 30 days 90% of the placebo treated rats had died compared with 50% of the KZ-41-treated rats.
KZ-41 combined with a nanoemulsion was also effective for improving survival in rats exposed to radiation who also had a skin wound and improved 30-day survival over placebo by approximately 40%. Use of the nanoemulsion vehicle allowed the half-life of the drug to be extended considerably from 3.0 to 18.5 hours resulting in a "sustained release" effect, note Yates et al.
The team believes this would be useful for people exposed to dirty bombs or with burns or other wounds in addition to radiation exposure.
The findings were presented at the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
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