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NIH funds Raymond for defense against radiological attack

Professor Ken Raymond

Photo courtesy of Michael Barnes

Chemistry professor Ken Raymond has been awarded a $998,325 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), as principal investigator of a program to develop new agents for large scale radiological treatment of humans, for example in the aftermath of a “dirty bomb” attack. The grant is one of five awards announced under the federal government's Project Bioshield. NIAID is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“We're developing actinide-specific complexing agents for decontaminating people who may have been exposed to plutonium or similar radioactive substances,” says Raymond. The goal of the NIAID-sponsored project is to test these agents with animals, which will be done by SRI International, and then proceed to clinical trials, all within 18 months.

Since coming to Berkeley in 1967, Raymond's research has included finding chemical agents that can safely remove concentrations of poisonous metal ions from the human body. To do this he has designed chemical compounds modeled after those manufactured by bacteria and other microorganisms to transport iron. Raymond's synthetic agents bind tightly with plutonium and allow it to be passed through the kidneys and excreted out of the body, a process known as “decorporation.” The agents may also prove useful for removing radioactive waste from the environment.

Raymond, former Chair of the Department of Chemistry, a member of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Chemical Science Divison. He serves and the Director of the Glenn T. Seaborg Center, which studies heavy element chemistry at the molecular level. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has won numerous major awards, including the Department of Energy's Ernest O. Lawrence Award.

In addition to the award to Raymond, NIAID has issued four other Project Bioshield awards, for a total $4 million dedicated to funding the development of products designed to eliminate radioactive materials from the human body resulting from radiological or nuclear exposure. The Project Bioshield research complements NIAID's medical countermeasures-development initiative to create safe and effective products of this type.

In the event of an attack by nuclear explosive device or radiological dirty bomb, people could potentially inhale, ingest, or absorb through their skin radioactive substances, or radionuclides. Depending on the type of radionuclide that a person is exposed to, the particles may be excreted from the body or enter bones, organs or other tissues, which could have serious health consequences. Through an initiative announced in 2005, NIAID is working to speed the development of a series of products that can bind with (chelate) the radionuclides in the body and eliminate (decorporate) them from the body.

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Professor Kenneth Raymond

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