Radiation Uses and Safety

Radiation Uses and Safety

BI 245

Weise et al.2000.   Plant Cell 12:1345

  1. A plant cell 
  2. Sucrose

How can you measure sucrose molecules taken in by the cell?


Expose to Epidermal Growth Factor

Untreated Fibroblast    Treated Fibroblast

How would you find out what new proteins are synthesized in the treated fibroblasts?


Labeling with Radioisotopes

  1. Radioisotopes are isotopes of atoms that decay and release energy in the form of particles or electromagnetic energy.
  1. The energy released is a form of electromagnetic radiation (like light), but very energetic (short wavelengths)
  1. This means if you put a radioisotope on a molecule, you can find it with radiation detection instruments or film – just like light.

Radioactive Materials in biomedical research

  • Most commonly used radioisotopes
  1. H3, C14, P32, P33, S35 — all beta emitters
  2. In vivo and in vitro labeling
  3. Na22, K40, Ca45, I125  — all beta/gamma emitters
  4. Uptake studies for the ions, in vitro labeling for I125   

Weise et al.2000.   Plant Cell 12:1345

How can you measure sucrose molecules taken in by the cell?

What isotopes would  be best to label sucrose?
How could you find out how much was in the cells?


Expose to Epidermal Growth Factor

Untreated Fibroblast    Treated Fibroblast

How would you find out what new proteins are synthesized in the treated fibroblasts?

What isotopes could you use to label newly synthesized proteins?

How would you find  those proteins?

Gel electrophoresis of proteins

In vivo labeled protein experiment

Suppose you wanted to label a DNA molecule?

  1. What isotopes could you use?
  2. How could you find the labeled DNA molecule.

The radioactive molecules used in these experiments are sometimes called tracers

  • Sugars, Lipids…C-14 or H-3
  • Proteins, C-14, S-35, or H-3 labeled amino acids
  • Nucleic acids P-32, either as a P32-labeled nucleotide or as P-32 added to one end of the molecule.

Radioactivity vs Radiation

  • Radioactivity
    • Any spontaneous change in the state of the nucleus accompanied by the release of energy.  Alpha, beta, gamma, neutrons
  • Radiation
    • Refers to the actual particles or photons emitted and the energy they carry.


Electromagnetic Radiation



What defines the differences in radionuclides and the radiation they emit

  • What type of radiation (alpha, beta, gamma)?
  • How does that radiation interact with matter?
  • How much energy does the radiation have?
  • How long with the radiation last (half-life of the radionuclide.

What are the results of alpha decay process?

Alpha particles

  • Move in straight line
  • Lose little energy in each interaction
  • But have many interactions in the path
  • Consequently don’t travel very far

What are the results of beta decay process?

Electrons and Positrons (betas)

Interaction Characteristics:

    • Ionize and excite atomic electrons
    • Few interactions per unit path length  few ions produced and low energy transfer.

Path Length > Range

    • Large energy loss per collision
    • Path is not straight

Higher energy deposition at end of path

(more interactions at end of path)

Energy differences

  • Betas
    • H3 = 0.018 MeV
    • C14 = 0.156 MeV
    • P32 = 1.71 MeV
  • Gammas
    • Co60 = 1.33 MeV
    • Cs137 = 0.66 MeV

What is the half-Lives of Radionuclides?

  • H-3  12.26 years
  • C-14  5730 years
  • S-35  87 days
  • P-32  14.3 days
  • Am-241  432 years

What is the radiation Risk?

  • All higher energy radiation poses some risk to cells.
    • UV – induces thymine dimers in DNA
    • Betas—induce changes in DNA, potentially breakage
    • Gammas and alphas — the same as beta, but generally more energetic, so more potential for damage.
    • X-rays  — same
  • DNA repair systems are activated, but not perfect.

Radiation Risk

  • High Dose (acute)
    • 100-400 rem –effects blood cell counts, but people usually recover
    • 400-1400 rem – GI track, and epithelial cells effected.   Lower end survive,. Upper end don’t
    • Above 1400 rem..death likely

Atomic Bomb Victims

Chernobyl nuclear meltdown

  • Low Dose 
    • Risk related to chance of mutation
    • Above 50 rem, risk proportional to dose
    • Below 50 rem, risk assessment less clear.
    • Effects below 10 rem unknown.
  • Primary risk is induction of cancer

What factors influence probability of radiation damage?

  • Radiation Dose
    • Type
    • Activity (how much)
    • Time of exposure

What types of exposure do we know of?

External Exposure

High energy Betas


Internal exposure – requires intake of radioisotope – Alpha, Beta and Gamma

External Exposure Reduction

  • Time: 

reduce time spent in radiation area

  • Distance:

stay as far away from the radiation source as possible

  • Shielding:

interpose appropriate materials between the source and the body


Controlling Internal Exposure

    • Safe Handling Practices!
    • Contamination Control
      • removable surface contamination
      • airborne contamination
  • Standard Procedures help!
    • Personal
      • No eating, drinking, smoking, make-up application, etc when working with RAM
    • Procedures
      • Work in hood
      • Wear PPE
      • Clean up contamination
      • Survey to make sure no contamination exists
      • Monitor Air, to make sure procedure doesn’t release dust or volatiles


Required PPE

  • Gloves
  • Labcoat
  • Dosimeters
  • Safety glasses

Inappropriate PPE!

Appropriate PPE, shielding, and monitoring

Exposures in perspective

  • You are exposed to ionizing radiation all the time.   This is called background radiation.


Whats my risk of getting cancer from a radiation exposure?

This is hard to determine.   The most quoted estimate is that an exposure of 10000 workers to 1 rem of radiation would produce 4 cancers  = 0.04%.

Consider that in the US as a whole the risk of cancer is about 25%


  • The public perception of radiation risk is that it is always “DEADLY RADIATION”!
  • This graphic shows how the media place stories on radiation out of proportion to risk.  nb. There were NO documented deaths due to radiation in the time shown here.

Situation                                        Cause of death

2.0 mrem                               cancer from radiation

travelling 700 miles by air             accident

crossing the ocean by air              cancer from cosmic rays

traveling 60 miles by car              accident

living in Denver for 2 months   cancer from cosmic rays

living in a stone building for

2 months     cancer from radioactivity

working in a factory for 1.5 wk    accident

working in a coal mine for 3 hr  accident

smoking 1-3 cigarettes   cancer; heart-lung disease

rock-climbing for 1.5 minutes  accident

20 min being a man aged 60  mortality from all causes

living in New York City for 3 days lung cancer from air pollution

Some Risk Comparisons
One-in-a million chances of dying

How do you find radiation or radioactive materials

  • Radiation
    • With an exposure meter (reads the radiation field)..These are called ion chambers
  • Radioactive materials
    • With a counter (like a Geiger counter).  These measure individual radioactive particles.