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From the event to medical treatment

Radioprotectors following an external irradiation

​Radioprotective agents are compounds administered before or after irradiation, to prevent or reduce the effects of ionizing radiation.

Published on 18 March 2015

Anyone can be exposed to ionizing radiation during such medical care as radiotherapy, radiology and scans. Exposure can also occur accidentally in the nuclear and non-nuclear industries, or during terrorist acts. The development of agents capable of protecting and repairing irradiated tissue is crucial.

Thiols, especially aminothiols and phosphorothioates, represent the first generation of radioprotectors and have been studied in this sense since the 1950s. Among the thiol derivatives, amifostine is the only molecule with a marketing authorization, obtained in 1999. Its indication is for preventing xerostomia (excessive dry mouth due to insufficient production of saliva) induced by radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. After the development of thiol compounds, efforts were concentrated on other antioxidants that protect tissues, and cytokines, which stimulate tissue regeneration. The two preferred strategies today are immunomodulators and natural products from plants. Research is continuing in order to identify an ever more effective treatment, which is both non-toxic and easy to administer. Cell treatments (stem cells) complement the search for new chemical compounds.