The SSIM's project on radiation sensors, performed under contract with the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, is designed to take a blood sample and determine within minutes whether an individual has been exposed to dangerous levels of ionizing radiation. It has applications for determining exposure caused by accident or terrorist attack, and will also have the capacity to identify individuals who have recently handled radioactive materials for the construction of "dirty bombs" and other weapons.
Work on a prototype of the sensor, called RAD-READ for Rapid Assessment Device for Radiation Exposure and Dosimetry, is well under way. The research team, composed of biologists and engineers, call the sensor a "lab on a chip," because it is actually able to perform myriad analyses. The sensor requires only a pin-prick of blood and does its analyses in a very short time period. In particular, RAD-READ will analyze the blood sample for up to 10 tell-tale snippets of genetic material that indicate radiation exposure. Present-day radiation tests can take weeks to months before results are available. RAD-READ will do its analysis and report the approximate level of exposure within an hour, a great advantage in situations of terrorist attack or radiation accident when medical professionals must screen patients for appropriate treatment.
Researchers believe the RAD-READ technology may one day extend to other medical applications, such as reporting on an individual's response to a particular pharmaceutical or some other substance in the environment.