Ionizing radiation is undoubtedly one of the most intensely studied of all toxic agents. The impetus for understanding its manifold effects came from its extensive use since the beginning of the century in medical diagnosis and in treating cancer. With the development of atomic energy during World War II, the field expanded dramatically. Atomic energy became one of the country's largest industries. The potential health hazards from occupational and environmental sources of radiation became an important area for research; it spawned a new field in the post-World War II era of measurement and control called health physics.
Under the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), a great national laboratory complex was established for research on weapons and power production and for biomedical and physics research. Long-term biomedical research was also initiated at large university-based facilities and by the support of individual grants. The development and sale of radioisotopes and radiation measuring instruments was subsidized by the AEC to the great benefit of biomedical research in general. Radiation biology has its own society, (the Radiation Research Society), and its own journal, the Journal of Radiation Research. In recent years, radiation has become an integral tool for understanding cellular function at the molecular level, for example, the tumor suppressor gene, p53. However, the level of biomedical research on radiation is much lower in the last few decades than earlier.
This chapter gives the toxicologist the basic features of radiation biology. Because of the scope of the field, only the essential concepts are presented. The reader is referred to textbooks (1-6) and other publications cited for more details.
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