First course developed to 'train the trainers' about radiation and nuclear exposure

July 26, 2007

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - In the event of a radiation or nuclear attack by terrorists, it will be essential to provide the public with accurate information on risks and how to minimize health effects. Working with a team of the nation's top radiation biologists, a scientist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine is developing an Internet-based training course to help radiation experts meet this challenge. The course, which will also be available on CD, will provide critical information that professionals in radiological sciences need to act as trainers and spokespersons during a radiologic or nuclear incident.

"The vast majority of general practitioners, emergency responders, and even many radiologists, have little understanding of the health consequences of a radiological or nuclear event," said lead researcher Michael Robbins, Ph.D., a professor and the section head of radiation biology in the department of radiation oncology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. "Given the recent events in the geopolitical climate, it now appears increasingly likely that a terrorist-generated radiological or nuclear event could occur within the US. Efforts need to be made to provide the public, and more specifically key professionals, with accurate information about the health consequences of such an event."

Robbins, a leading radiation biologist who studies the long-term effects of radiation, will provide the introductory lecture in the eight-hour course. Using data from atomic bomb and radiation exposure survivors, he will give basic knowledge of radiation and its biological effects, and medical management of an exposure.

William McBride, D. Sc., vice-chair for experimental radiation oncology, University of California at Los Angeles, will give the second lecture on cell death in radiation. McBride is the past president of the Radiation Research Society, the premier U.S. scientific organization in the area of radiation biology, chemistry and physics.

Joel Greenberger, M.D., from the University of Pittsburgh, will give the third lecture on oxidative stress and radiation biology. Greenberger is the chair of the department of radiation oncology and the deputy of the Lung Cancer Center at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also world-renowned for his research in the use of antioxidant enzymes in treating radiation-induced injury.

Jeffrey Schwartz, Ph.D., from the University of Washington, will provide the fourth lecture on the role of bone marrow transplantation in a radiation incident. Schwartz is a radiation biologist from one of the leading bone marrow transplant centers in the U.S., the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The fifth lecture will be addressed by Alan D'Andrea, M.D., chief, Division of Genomic Stability and DNA Repair, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University, regarding the DNA damage response. D'Andrea has extensively researched rare human genetic diseases and has developed unique models for investigating the cellular response to radiation.

Jacqueline Williams, Ph.D., from the University of Rochester, will lead the sixth lecture on tissue damage following low doses of radiation. Williams has an international reputation in the pathogenesis and treatment of radiation-induced late effects, particularly in the brain and lungs, and is currently program director of Radiation Medicine, Center for Disaster Medicine and Emergency Preparedness, Rochester, N.Y.

Stephen Brown, M.D., from the Department of Radiation Oncology, Wayne State Medical School in Detroit, has more than 15 years experience in radiation biology research. He is giving the seventh lecture on lung, kidney and brain response to radiation.

The eighth and final lecture, given by Eric Hall, D.Phil., D.Sc., from Columbia University, will be on the cancer-causing effects of long-term exposure to low doses of radiation. Hall is director of the Center for Radiological Research, Columbia University, and author of one of the most widely used sources for radiation biology education, "Radiobiology for the Radiologist."

"The medical community will benefit greatly from having relevant information from which to base an appropriate response to the various risks posed by a radiological terrorist event. Such a program is not currently available," said Robbins.
The course will be available free and is anticipated to be completed by April 2008. Funding for the project has been provided by the Radiological Society of North America Research and Education Foundation. Media contact: Shannon Koontz,, or Karen Richardson,, at (336) 716-4587.

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university's School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 18th in primary care and 44th in research among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 35th in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

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