Researchers say that Japanese workers struggling to contain radiation related to the Fukushima incident in light of the recent earthquake should consider having some of their own stem cells removed. This way, they will have their own, undamaged cells available for therapy if they should need it due to radiation exposure. Typically haemophilic stem cells and other rapidly dividing cells are the most susceptible to radiation. Previously, with other nuclear accidents, donor stem cells have been used in the treatment of those exposed to high levels of radiation. However, finding a donor can be time consuming, and there is the risk of GVHD, or the syndrome that causes the body to reject the foreign cells. There is also the risk of immune suppression from required related drugs.
To avoid these potentially dangerous issues, the Japanese experts are suggesting collecting peripheral blood stem cells from the blood of the actual workers so that they will be available for future transplant should the need present itself. This has many advantages over the donor option, including the eradicated risk of GVHD and drugs that suppress the immune system. The procedure for removing the cells is safe, that the stem cells are easy to store frozen. They can also treat a known possible side effect from radiation, leukaemia.
Researchers admit that treatment with their own stem cells is not flawless, as it can treat injuries to bone marrow cells only, not tissue in the lung and gastrointestinal tract. Right now over 100 transplant teams are standing by in the country to extract stem cells and make sure they are properly and safely stored. Hospitals in Europe have agreed to help if need be.
There are those resisting the plan, citing that it puts added stress on the workers, and there is not a general consensus among governmental entities or the general public. Experts add that the mission is to save the lives of workers and protect local communities at the same time. If workers end up sick, it could result in a fall of the entire nuclear system in Japan. The process required to completely shut down the reactors will take years, and as the radiation exposure builds over the years, having these stem cells banked will become more and more important.
They contend that the workers, and not the government or the general population, should be the ones to make the decision regarding the extraction of stem cells, as the workers are the ones directly affected. The issue should not be one of cost vs. benefit to the country as a whole, but one of personal choice in relation to the workers’ own health.