Researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center report the experimental results suggest the compound known as known as DIM (3,3'-diindolylmethane,) already shown to be safe for humans, may protect normal tissues during radiation therapy for cancer treatment and possibly could prevent or mitigate sickness caused by radiation exposure.
Previous studies had found the compound to have cancer-preventive properties, they said.
"DIM has been studied as a cancer prevention agent for years, but this is the first indication that DIM can also act as a radiation protector," researcher Eliot Rosen said.
In the study rats were irradiated with lethal doses of gamma ray radiation, then treated with a daily injection of DIM for two weeks, starting 10 minutes after the radiation exposure.
The result was dramatic, said Rosen, a professor of biochemistry and radiation medicine.
"All of the untreated rats died, but well over half of the DIM-treated animals remained alive 30 days after the radiation exposure," he said.
The study highlights two potential uses of the compound, Rosen said.
"DIM could protect normal tissues in patients receiving radiation therapy for cancer, but could also protect individuals from the lethal consequences of a nuclear disaster."