Could Stem Cell Transplants Save Japan’s Nuclear Workers?
Scientists say Japan’s faceless heroes — the nuclear workers toiling inside the radioactive, quake-stricken Fukushima plant — could get a life-saving boost from a procedure normally used on cancer patients: stem cell transplants.
An infusion of blood stem cells can be used to boost bone marrow in cancer patients ravaged by radiation treatment. But experts say the procedure could also save the lives of Japan’s nuclear workers, who’ve been exposed to high levels of radioactive contamination while battling nuclear fallout at the country’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, 150 miles north of Tokyo.
About 400 workers have been staying at a building about half a mile from Fukushima’s blown-out Reactor No. 1, while residents within a surrounding 12-mile radius have evacuated altogether.
At least two workers were hospitalized last week after coming in contact with radioactive water as they tried to lay electricity cables. The exact level of radiation the workers are constantly exposed to hasn’t been made public.
Now, Japanese authorities are considering plans to collect and freeze cells from some of the workers, in case they’re in need of blood stem cell transplants later on, when the true amount of contamination is known, and if workers begin to fall ill.
Workers who’ve been exposed to high levels of contamination could develop acute radiation syndrome. “The survival rate of patients with this syndrome decreases with increasing [radiation] dose,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website. “The primary cause of death is the destruction of the bone marrow.”
That’s where the stem cell transplants might come in…