EU researchers explore the 'lower levels' of radiation-induced cancer

September 12, 2005

Brussels, 09 Sep 2005

The risks of getting cancer from ionising radiation, particularly high levels of exposure, have long been a focus of research and clinical study. But the carcinogenic impact of long-term exposure to low levels of radiation is a very different story. Natural and man-made sources of ionising radiation are numerous, subtle and, until fairly recently, have been difficult to identify, quantify and analyse at genetic and cellular levels of activity in the human body. The EU-funded project RISC-RAD is helping fill the gaps in scientific and medical knowledge about this subject.

One of the first large projects of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to get off the ground, RISC-RAD was launched on 1 January 2004 as an Integrated Project with EU funding of €10 million and a consortium of 29 research partners from 11 countries working in the field of radiation-induced cancer arising from damaged DNA. The 48-month project's work includes research on DNA repair, genomic instability and tumour development.

Though RISC-RAD reaches its halfway mark only at the end of this year, participants are already clarifying the issues of their work for the remainder of the project's timeline. This is based on a comparison of research results at RISC-RAD's first annual meeting of scientists earlier this year in Germany.

"Everyone reviewed the results of their research carried out in 2004 and came up with a strategic focus for the remainder of the project's duration," said Axel Meunier, RISC-RAD's Communications Assistant, who also works for France's national nuclear agency, Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (CEA), which coordinates the project through Dr Laure Sabatier. "There was pretty much a consensus about the direction ahead: to focus on the carcinogenic effects of low-dose effects of radiation," he told Headlines.

Results trickling in already

Indeed, the results of RISC-RAD-sponsored work on low-dose radiation are already trickling in from researchers across Europe. For instance, a trio of researchers at CNIO, Spain's national cancer centre, saw the results of their work on telomeres published in an August edition of the prestigious journal Science. As specialised nucleoprotein complexes, telomeres are the physical ends of linear chromosomes and have important functions in the protection, replication and stabilisation of chromosomes. The CNIO researchers show how telomere length, among other factors, affects epidermal stem cell biology and its possible role in cancer.

Such early research results are useful to other RISC-RAD participants, particularly those involved in modelling and simulation, noted Meunier. "To a certain extent, RISC-RAD's modelling work depends on the completion of research in the other work packages," he said. "However, deliverables are rolling in every six or twelve months, so they will soon start to incorporate the data into their modelling. It'll be a continuous feedback loop that adjusts the modelling assumptions as more research data becomes available."

Noting that a research project of only four years cannot produce definitive results in a field as complex as cancer, Meunier said RISC-RAD nonetheless benefits enormously from the multiplier effects of an Integrated Project. "There is great value in being able to pull together research results from so many participants across Europe working at the same time on the subject. The distillation of know-how just wouldn't be the same with everyone working separately in their own corner of Europe."

DG Research
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