Nuclear Power Catastrophes and Stem Cell Collection: The following is an article written by my friend Miwako Hosoda, Phd. who is a Research fellow at the Harvard University School of Public Health. The subject of the article concerns preventive steps which could be taken by government and corporate interests to reduce the dangers encountered by first responders of nuclear power accidents through the storage of their stem cells before maladies, most especially, cancers develop. I believe it has relevance to not only the workers who risk their lives in the effort to clean up after toxic nuclear accidents such as Fukushima but to all of us who live in this nuclear age.
"An urgent plea to protect nuclear power plants workers in Fukushima "
The employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co. and other workers have been trying to resolve the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. They are facing, as many know, exposure to high levels of radiation. There have been a series of aftershocks in that area which contain potential risk of another accident, and it is estimated it will take several years to resolve. The health risk management for workers is considered to be insufficient because the internal radiation dose of workers has not been measured.
In an effort to respond to the possible health-related risks of the front line workers because of massive exposure to radioactive material, some specialists are urging the collection and storing the workers’ own hematopoietic stem cells (HSC), especially peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC), to try to protect them.
Shuichi Taniguchi, the Head of the Hematology Department at Toranomon Hospital on March 25th, 2011 has said "We have to protect the workers. Anything could happen at the nuclear plant, so preparation is important." He therefore, has proposed an idea for this purpose. Once a person is exposed to high levels of radiation his/her ability to form blood is lost. A bone marrow transplant would be necessary. If one’s HSC can be stored in advance, they can be used for a bone marrow transplant. The cells will be preserved in a frozen state. Saving one’s own stem cells is better than receiving HSC from other persons because it avoids the risk of rejection.
The Japan Society for Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation has supported this idea and announced that 107 transplant teams are standing by to collect and store the own HSC on March 29th.
However, according to Mito Kakizawa, Member of the House of Representatives of Japan, the Japanese Government decided not to take this course of action after consulting the Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission and the National Institute of Radiological Science. The reasons they have given are: it is not a standardized treatment internationally and collecting one’s own HSC contains risk itself.
Takanori Teshima, Associate Professor at Center for Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Kyusyu University Hospital, gave other reasons such as workers would not be in danger as long as the limit is carefully monitored, it is considered less important than other severe crises and this treatment might exaggerate the fear of workers. Takanori Teshima also said “To do our best [for the workers] by using any resources is our responsibility. The storing of stem cells should be one of the first tasks in preparing a response to high level radiation exposure anywhere in the world, and could be a standardized prevention method in the future. We are proposing to be ready to support the workers in danger.”
Syuichi Taniguchi has been receiving several applications to ask this HSC procedure be done. Protecting the workers from high radiation exposure remains essential. However, as a risk management procedure, collecting and storing one’s own HSC would be worth considering.