X-ray machines and CT scanners are the double-edged swords of modern medicine. They are invaluable for diagnosing illnesses and catching early-stage cancers when they are still treatable. But exposure to radiation from this equipment can also trigger cancers in a small yet significant number of patients.
Now, Canadian researchers are hoping to minimize the radiation risk with a special antioxidant supplement that would be given to patients before undergoing an X-ray or CT scan.
"Antioxidants can reduce DNA damage," explained one of researchers, Kieran Murphy, a professor at the University of Toronto and deputy chief of radiology at the University Health Network.
He noted that a dose of radiation increases the body's level of free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules that can wreak havoc on cells and break apart DNA.
Antioxidants, on the other hand, can neutralize free radicals and potentially limit the harm done to the human genetic code.
Dr. Murphy and his research colleagues conducted experiments for more than a year trying to develop the right mix of antioxidants for protecting patients from radiation.
In a preliminary study, blood samples were drawn from two volunteers before and after they took the antioxidant cocktail for five days. All the batches of blood were put in a CT scanner and then examined for evidence of DNA damage. After the volunteers had loaded up on antioxidants, the researchers found 30 to 50 per cent less DNA damage in the blood extracted.
Dr. Murphy was in Chicago this week to present the promising results to the annual scientific meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology.
Antioxidants include numerous vitamins as well as compounds like uric acid. But Dr. Murphy won't divulge the exact combo of antioxidants in the special formula. The researchers have filed a patent and they are hoping to market their product.
The group has secured funding to proceed with more extensive testing. The anti-radiation supplement could be publicly available within two years, he said.