A substance found in crab shells could be used to help remove radioactive materials from the human body in the event of a disaster such as the detonation of a dirty bomb.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientist Tatiana Levitskaia is investigating a unique approach based on a readily available biomaterial that might be used to reduce an individual’s radiation dose.
Chitosan is a natural and safe material found to be an effective chelator, defined as a chemical that removes metal ions from solution, for a wide range of nuclides. Chitosan is obtained from chitin and found in the exoskeletons of many invertebrates such as crabs and prawns. It is one of the most abundant, readily available and renewable natural biopolymers, second only to cellulose.
Some chitosan materials can be chemically modified to enhance their affinity to particular radionuclides. By binding to radionuclides, scientists speculate that chitosan may suppress deposition in bones and critical organs like the liver and kidney, and accelerate removal from the body.
Levitskaia’s research is directed toward finding a natural chelator like chitosan that can safely and effectively rid the body of diverse radionuclides such as actinides, cobalt, strontium, and radium. Currently, Levitskaia’s investigation involves the removal of cobalt from living tissues in laboratory rats. She expects to have results by this autumn.