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Apropos of nothing, US intel wants to improve low-dose radiation detection

IARPA unleashes TEI-REX to better track nuclear sources

The research arm of US intelligence has begun investigating methods for spotting low doses of ionizing radiation to better protect American service personnel and provide evidence of nuclear technology use.

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) announced the start of Targeted Evaluation of Ionizing Radiation Exposure (TEI-REX) on Friday, which will look for non-invasive methods of determining radiation exposure in low doses through samples including hair, skin, sweat, and saliva. 

In its technical explanation [PDF] of the program, IARPA said current methods of collecting biodosimetry data, which looks at the effects of radiation on human or animal tissue, have a number of issues: it can require invasive samples, such as blood; multiple collections are often required; there's a time limit for getting an accurate reading; the markers used to calculate doses are transient; and there's a wide standard deviation of dose calculations for low-dose exposure.

"Today's technology mostly assesses exposure to high doses of radioactive materials by looking at multiple samples that often have limited accuracy for only a few days," said program manager Dr Michael Patterson. 

Most radiation tests that require blood to be drawn rely on examining chromosomal damage, which IARPA said is unnecessary because recent research "demonstrated that biomarkers associated with ionizing radiation exposure can be detected across numerous biological targets including proteins, peptides, metabolites, and lipids."  

TEI-REX wants to look at those markers, which IARPA said are long-lasting and can be directly attributed to the initial dose of radiation. The program is looking to establish measurement models and methodologies that can measure accurate low-dose ionizing exposure within 25 days, and beyond 90 days, which it said will help it build a new understanding of the effects of low-dose radiation "through advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, biomarker discovery, and analytical biology."

IARPA said [PDF] there are several applications for the technology, such as investigating radiation poisoning cases similar to Alexander Litvinenko's, which took 22 days to confirm.

Other uses include better radiation exposure measurements for military personnel, who often aren't carrying dosimetry badges; detecting and tracking down radiation sources and nuclear contamination out in the field; and testing in remote locations – such as space – where astronauts are exposed to much more radioactivity than those of us on Earth.

The University of Washington, Ohio State University, Signature Science, and Areté Associates were awarded grants to carry out this three-and-a-half year study project, and the research will be performed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Lab, and the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. ®

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