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Studying the effects of radiation and certain toxic substances on living organisms

Published on 24 November 2017


Ionizing radiation can cause a wide variety of damage to a cell. The most feared damages in the long term are those that affect DNA molecules (chromosomal reshuffling, mutations, etc.), which can lead to serious dysfunctions. Nevertheless, cells do have the means to repair these damages. To study the biological response to ionizing radiation and the potential functional disorders that could follow such an exposure, researchers at the IRCM, a department of the François Jacob Institute of Biology (at the CEA site in Fontenay-aux-Roses), draw on their expertise regarding the mechanisms for maintaining genome integrity.  

The researchers pay close attention to the effects of radiation on stem cells. These undifferentiated cells give rise to the functional cells of an organ or tissue. For example, hematopoietic stem cells differentiate into the blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets). Any modification of their genome can be harmful, especially since it will be transmitted to numerous daughter cells. Researchers at IRCM thus study the mechanisms of transmitting radiation-induced damages.

Since the cellular mechanisms for maintaining genome integrity are also involved in the development of cancer, the teams at the IRCM have acquired expertise in certain cancers. Their work thus finds applications in therapeutic innovation or the improvement of radiotherapy protocols.

Individual radiosensitivity

The effects of ionizing radiation on health vary from one individual to another. Researchers at the IRCM work to identify common genes or a specific molecular signature in people who have developed a disease following radiation therapy or accidental irradiation. For this, they use global approaches (genomics, proteomics, transcriptomics) on selected cohorts (Chernobyl residents and workers, patients who have undergone radiotherapy, etc.). This work can have implications for the fields of occupational medicine, nuclear medicine, forensic medicine, etc.



In order to study the effects of radiation on living organisms, the IRCM has at its disposal a radiation facility, unique in France, to investigate the effects of low doses. ©F.Rhodes/CEA

Studying the toxicity of certain substances

Researchers from the IRCM at the François Jacob Institute of Biology (Fontenay-aux-Roses) are also interested in the responses of living organisms to other types of attacks and are trying to determine the effects of endocrine disrupters (phthalates, bisphenols) and nanoparticles (nanotoxicology).