AUGUST 21, 2015—How would one quickly assess the radiation doses received by hundreds of thousands of people following a large-scale radiological event? As a recipient of a National Institutes of Health grant through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), Albert J. Fornace Jr., MD, is working with other researchers across the country to answer that question.
The grant for $33 million over the next five years was awarded to the Center for High Throughput Minimally Invasive Radiation Biodosimetry, a consortium led by Columbia University that includes Fornace’s laboratory in the department of biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology and the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. It also includes the University of Arizona, the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI) and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).
Fornace also serves as director of the Waters Center for Innovation for Metabolomics at Georgetown, and will lead the metabolomics component, receiving $2.9 million from this award. Metabolomics is the study of metabolites, the products of metabolic processes, Fornace explained. “Because metabolomics is downstream of other -omics platforms such as genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics, it is a more accurate measure of phenotype, including injury or disease phenotype,” he said. “In other words, it provides a high-resolution snapshot of cellular metabolism at any given time,.”
The composition and concentration of metabolites in the body’s tissues and fluids vary in response to injury, stress and environmental changes. By using metabolomic profiling to analyze biofluids that can be acquired with non-invasive or minimally invasive techniques, such as blood and urine, researchers will identify small-molecule biomarkers for radiation exposure and injury.
The new grant will allow Fornace’s lab to continue their research on high throughput biodosimetry. “More specifically, it will allow us to develop and refine a panel of biomarkers for radiation injury to assess both acute as well as later effects of exposure, such as lung toxicity,” he said. “This award will also provide an opportunity to explore new technology for field-deployable sample collection and processing devices to expedite for human exposures.”