Innovation and Partnerships Office

Assay to Determine Sensitivity to Radiation IB-3203


  • Measuring the radiation sensitivity of an individual or a population
  • Diagnostic imaging for use in hospitals or pediatric clinics
  • Assessing risk for radiation-induced cancer and DNA repair ability


  • Functional assay
  • Scalable
  • Affordable and fast


Sylvain Costes and Rafael Gómez-Sjöberg of Berkeley Lab have invented a technology that will improve screening techniques used by hospitals, pediatric clinics, the nuclear industry, research laboratories, and the military to identify people who may be sensitive to low doses of ionizing radiation emitted by imaging devices such as X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans, or by nuclear reactors.

Unlike genetic assays, which test for the expression of a gene associated with a certain disease, the Berkeley Lab invention uses a functional assay that measures the DNA repair kinetic, or repair rate, in the living cells of a patient’s blood sample. Individuals with a slow DNA repair rate have a higher probability of developing long-term mutations and cancer when their DNA is damaged by ionizing radiation or other environmental factors. By identifying individuals with a slow DNA repair rate, the invention will protect patients and radiation workers from ionizing radiation doses that may put their health at risk.

The invention includes a microfluidic device designed for automated, high-throughput screening and is robust enough to analyze as many as 30 samples or people in one day. Due to the Berkeley Lab device’s compact design, it requires only small, microfluidic samples. The approach is scalable, and could be developed for much higher throughput. To achieve superior speed and accuracy, the Berkeley Lab researchers developed a method to quickly quantify the DNA repair kinetic in blood samples irradiated ex vivo. The invention accurately measures an individual’s repair kinetic response to a range of doses, from low CT-scan levels to high radiotherapy levels, within 24 hours.

The new assay would be inexpensive, offering patients an affordable way to monitor their DNA repair kinetic, and to track whether a change in diet and lifestyle improves it. The invention can be used by a laboratory or physician’s office to document a patient’s DNA repair kinetic.

Children are more at risk than adults for developing radiation-induced cancer. While it is well accepted by researchers that cells with DNA mutations can take as long as 20 years to progress into a full cancer, with the Berkeley Lab assay, children who are more prone to DNA damage will be able to get a head start on protecting their future health. For example, the Berkeley Lab assay may be used by pediatric hospitals or clinics to recommend MRI or ultrasound as non-radiation diagnostic alternatives to X-rays or CT scans.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE: Bench-scale prototype

STATUS: Patent pending. Available for licensing or collaborative research.


Teresa Neumaiera, Joel Swenson, Christopher Pham, Aris Polyzos, Alvin T. Lo, PoAn Yang, Jane Dyball, Aroumougame Asaithamby, David J. Chen, Mina J. Bissell, Stefan Thalhammer, and Sylvain V. Costes, “Evidence for Formation of DNA Repair Centers and Dose-Response Nonlinearity in Human Cells,” PNAS, December 19, 2011


Gene Transcript Signatures re: Low Dose Radiation Induced Breast Cancer, IB-3253