A new drug designed to quickly and easily remove nuclear materials from the human body is set to begin its first-ever human trials.
Two drugs are already approved to help those who have ingested nuclear contaminants remove them from their body, but those medications are costly, difficult to administer, and limited in the types of nuclear contaminants they can safely remove.
The researchers behind this new treatment, which comes in the form of a pill, say it could become a critical life-saving tool in the event of a nuclear accident, a “dirty” bomb terror attack, or even an all-out nuclear conflict.
Nuclear Materials Kill From the Inside Out
Nuclear materials are among the most dangerous substances on Earth. They are the fuel for extremely deadly nuclear weapons, and if ingested in small amounts, they can kill a person slowly from the inside out. That’s because nuclear materials are radioactive, meaning they are constantly releasing a form of radiation, typically ionizing radiation. When these types of materials are accidentally ingested, that constant release of radiation inside the body ultimately wreaks havoc on DNA, cells, organs, and pretty much everything else the human body is made of.
Due to this inherent lethality, nuclear materials could theoretically be used to construct a dirty bomb, where instead of a massive blast of heat like a fission bomb, the nuclear material is spread about by a conventional explosion, where it can make its way into the bodies of its victims via food, water, wounds, or even direct inhalation. There are even instances where assassins have clandestinely tricked their victims into ingesting nuclear materials, which then kills them slowly from the inside out.
Unfortunately, once these types of materials have been ingested, they are extremely hard to remove. As noted, there are a pair of therapies already available, but they are limited in cost, usability, and effectiveness.
Now, a team of researchers says they have developed a medication that is significantly more effective, works on more nuclear contaminants, is cheaper, and due to the fact that it is a pill and not taken intravenously, much easier to administer.
Nuclear Survival Drug Removes 5 Key Contaminants
Dubbed HOPO 14-1, the new investigational nuclear material removal drug works by binding with the material inside the body and then allowing the body to remove the material through natural processes. This is the same mechanism used by the currently preferred nuclear material removal regimens, which both focus on a material called diethylenetriamine pentaacetate, or DPTA.
Once injected, DPTA-based therapies can bind or “lock on” to three types of nuclear material that can kill from the inside out. They are plutonium, americium, and curium. After the DPTA has locked onto the nuclear material, it is expelled from the body rather quickly via natural processes.
In contrast, HOPO 14-1 can remove these same three contaminants and more. According to the press release announcing the drug’s first human clinical trial, “Preclinical research has shown that HOPO 14-1 can effectively remove many radioactive contaminants, including uranium and neptunium, in addition to plutonium, americium, and curium.”
The researchers have also determined that their new therapy not only removes more contaminants than existing therapies but it is reportedly way more effective than DPTA-based treatments. In fact, the press release contends that “HOPO 14-1 is up to 100 times more effective than DTPA at binding and removing these radioactive elements.”
Surviving a Dirty Bomb or a Nuclear War Motivating Human Drug Trials
The researchers behind the latest drug, which is funded by The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) (a part of the National Institutes of Health) say that their goal in developing a pill for the safe and effective removal of ingested nuclear materials is particularly critical in 2023, with the increasing threat of a dirty bomb or nuclear weapons attack.
Specifically, the researchers note that the potential ability to easily dispense a pill as opposed to administering injectable medication could literally be the difference between life and death for thousands of victims in the turbulent aftermath of a dirty bomb or nuclear weapon attack.
The clinical trial itself, which will take place this year, will enroll 42 healthy participants from ages 18 to 65. Those volunteers will be broken into seven groups of six each. The first group will receive a 100-milligram (mg) dose of the oral HOPO 14-1, while the dosage will go up for each subsequent group, capping out at 7500 mg.
After the initial dosage, participants will be followed for the next 13 days to determine the drug’s absorption, distribution, and elimination. Notably, none of the participants are folks who have ingested nuclear materials but instead are being tested for a baseline level of toxicity of the drug in a healthy body. If the therapy is deemed successful in healthy individuals, the researchers will likely move on to testing their therapy on people who have ingested actual nuclear materials.
So, even if no one ever has to live through the aftermath of a nuclear attack or a dirty bomb, the researchers believe that their first-of-its-kind human trial of an oral treatment for the ingestion of nuclear materials can immediately aid those who ingest the material in other ways. This may include nuclear scientists who are accidentally exposed to radioactive materials in their everyday work or even a victim of overt poisoning.
The results of the clinical trial are expected to be published sometime in 2024.