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Lancet letter : store blood cells from Fukushima workers

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A group of Japanese doctors on Friday urged  workers at the Fukushima nuclear plant to have their blood stemcells stored as  a safeguard should they be exposed to life-threatening levels of radiation.

The technique entails storing so-called autologous peripheral blood stem  cells (PBSCs), which are immature cells that differentiate into blood cells.

PBSC transplants are often used in cancer treatment to boost depleted blood  cell counts among patients who have had radiotherapy to destroy a tumour.

In a letter to the British medical weekly The Lancet, cancer specialists at  four Japanese hospitals argued that it made sense to store blood from the  hundreds of workers battling to save the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant from  catastrophe.

These teams are working in extremely hazardous conditions, removing  irradiated water from the site and trying to cool overheated fuel in three  crippled reactors, they said.

“The process to completely shut down the reactors is expected to take  years. The risk of accidental radiation exposure will thus accumulate for the  nuclear workers and banking of their PBSCs will become increasingly  important,” they added.

The letter’s five authors are led by Tetsuya Tanimoto of the Cancer  Institute at the Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research and Shuichi Taniguchi  of the Toranomon Hospital, both in Tokyo.

The doctors complained Japan’s nuclear industry resisted storing the  workers’ PBSCs because it was fearful of what this could do its reputation.    “The most important mission is to save the nuclear workers’ lives and to  protect the local communities,” the letter said.

“Such an approach would be the industry’s best defence: if a fatal accident  happened to the nuclear workers, the nuclear power industry of Japan would  collapse.”

Paris, April 15, 2011 (AFP)