Several Japanese medical experts want to bank blood stem cells from workers at the ailing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The cells would be used as a treatment in case a high radiation exposure makes a worker sick. But the proposal is raising eyebrows among U.S. experts, who say it probably wouldn’t save many lives.
In a letter today in The Lancet, Tetsuya Tanimoto of the Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research and four others note that bringing the radiation-leaking nuclear plant under control could take months or years, and some workers could accidentally be exposed to high levels of radiation. While high radiation doses can eventually cause cancer, the immediate health effect is to destroy dividing cells—including blood cells—which wipes out the immune system. The authors point out that some workers after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster received donated bone marrow transplants, and two Japanese nuclear workers got donated stem cell transplants after a 1999 accident.
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