Flinders University wins US Department of Energy Low Dose research contract.
The following includes the contents of an official Flinders University Press release reporting the award of a US Department of Energy low dose radiation contract to Flinders University of South Australia. The text is taken from a nuclear veterans magazine which received the Press Release:
Quote: “United States Department of Energy to Fund Study of Low Level Radiation Effects by Flinders University (Atomic Fallout, Vol. 3, No.5, Nov/Dec, 2001. pp 1 – 5. The organ of the Atomic ExServcemen’s Association, Inc ACT, Australia.)
“A research project by a team of researchers at Flinders University, Adelaide,
South Australia, that will contribute to the establishment of safe limits for exposure to to low level radiation has received funding of US$445,000 from the United States Department of Energy under its Biological and Environmental Research Program.
The project head, Dr. Pamela Sykes, a principal Medical Scientist/Senior Lecturer in the Department of Haematology, said the U.S. Department of Energy funds a number of projects with the main aim of determining the health risks to humans posed by low levels of radiation.
While it is well known that exposure to high levels of radiation induces high rates of chromosomal mutation increasing the risk of cancer, little is known about the dangers posed by exposures to weaker doses.
The research will examine doses at the level of 10 rads (a spinal X ray, for instance, creates about a one rad dose of radiation) and will investigate the effects of such a dose experienced both over a short period and accumulated through prolonged exposure.
“Present occupational health and safety and population limits are set by an extrapolation (a value of a function or measurement) from what is known from high doses, but it is really only informed conjecture,” Dr Sykes said.
“While we can the effects at high doses, so far no-one has had a model which would allow them to see a low-level effects even if it was there.”
Dr Sykes said that a highly sensitive model developed at Flinders University had been a major feature in attracting the American funding, which is seldom awarded outside the United States.
The Flinders team will use the same transgenic mouse model previously used for a study of the effect of radiation from mobile phones.
“It’s only with transgenic mice and new molecular techniques that we are able to look down at these lower levels,” Dr Sykes said.
She said results from preliminary research performed by her PhD student Mr Tony Hooker, using the mouse model, had already shown an induction of mutation events at below the 10 rad level.
One aspect of the research will explore the possibility of genetic predisposition (susceptibility to a specific disease) to radiation-induced damage and will involve mice that have a defective gene that makes them more sensitive to radiation. “We know that the same gene in humans does the same thing.” Dr Sykes said. “So one of the things the U.S. Department of Energy wants to look at is the possibility that there is a subset (a set within a larger set) of the population which is more sensitive than other people. If you have a limit based on the whole population but some the population are more sensitive, then perhaps you need a lower limit.
Both x and gamma radiation will be subject to scrutiny typical sources are medical diagnostic tests and radioactive waste. While mutations occur naturally in the body, it requires an accumulation of mutations to cause cancer – the scientists’ job will be to see if there is an observable difference between levels of mutations in un-dosed cells and cells exposed to low doses of radiation.
“We are trying to work out the minimum amount that will cause mutations,” Dr Sykes said. She said results from high-radiation studies also have raised the possibility that a little bit of radiation may actually have a protective effect, acting to switch on the body’s repair mechanism and thus helping suppress mutations in the event of a subsequent higher dose.
But there is a counter suggestion that an initial dose of radiation can lead to long-term instability in the chromosomes, and the researchers at the Flinders University will be investigating both possibilities as part of the research project over the next three years.” end quote