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Developing New Medical Countermeasures


The University of Maryland School of Medicine is awarded $3.5 million in federal funding to expand medical countermeasures program. (Deborah Kotz) | Mon Mar 4, 2024

Developing New Medical Countermeasures

March 4, 2024   |  

University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) Dean Mark T. Gladwin, MD, announced on Feb. 26 that UMSOM faculty scientists have been selected as key contractors by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for the federal agency’s Radiation Nuclear Animal Model Development program. The $3.5 million award that Erika Davies, PhD, assistant professor of radiation oncology, received to develop Acute Radiation Syndrome Animal Models has a $16 million potential total. The Division of Translational Radiation Sciences (DTRS), within the Department of Radiation Oncology, will support this project.

Davies and her colleagues are working with BARDA to advance the development of radiologic and nuclear countermeasures. This is part of a broader effort to enhance national preparedness for radiation accidents and emergencies. “We’re trying to develop and test new treatments that can be used in a terror attack scenario that involves high radiation exposure,” Davies said. “We are developing robust animal models that will translate well to humans.”

Erika Davies, PhD

Erika Davies, PhD

BARDA is part of the Office of the Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Currently, relatively few medical treatments are available to counter radiological and nuclear threats as Food and Drug Administration approval requires extensive preclinical efficacy and safety data to support drug approval. Many more such agents are needed, based on the range of options that could be employed by terrorists, the need for urgent intervention following radiation exposure, and the medical complexities of acute and chronic radiation injury.

“The DTRS is uniquely positioned to provide leading expertise in medical countermeasures research,” said William Regine, MD, the Isadore and Fannie Schneider Foxman Chair of Radiation Oncology at UMSOM. “We are bridging first-in-class radiation science with contract research to increase the likelihood of survival in a radiation or nuclear incident, while simultaneously identifying a potential new class of therapeutics for cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.”

Almost a decade ago, research by DTRS faculty and staff led to the approval of the first drug to treat the deleterious effects of radiation exposure following a nuclear incident based on efficacy data generated in animal models. Animal models are especially important in preparing for radiation emergencies, because the efficacy of most experimental treatments cannot be tested in humans.

“DTRS is able to develop different experimental models through its world-class ‘Good Laboratory Practice’-compliant testing facility, which houses one of the nation’s most well-equipped suites of technologies supporting radiation research,” said Gladwin, who is the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of UMSOM and vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). “Our faculty’s collaborative expertise from across the broadest spectrum of countermeasure investigations allows the rapid configuration and implementation of solutions-oriented approaches to even the most difficult challenges.”

The work with BARDA will include multiple individual projects that draw on changing configurations of DTRS experts, instrumentation, and specialized resources, as well as on collaborations with other UMSOM and UMB investigators.