Will Stem Cells be Used With Japan’s Nuclear Workers?
In the wake of the nuclear disaster in Japan, Japanese officials have proposed harvesting stem cells from the bone marrow of workers before sending them into the Fukushima nuclear power plant as a precautionary measure.
These stem cell transplants could offer a potentially life-saving treatment option for Japanese nuclear workers who may become exposed to unsafe levels of radiation, which damages bone marrow.
The stem cell transplant procedure would involve having the workers of the Fukushima nuclear power plant take specialized drugs (called blood growth factor proteins) for several days which would facilitate stem cells being released into their blood stream, from which the stem cells could then be extracted through apheresis. (a process commonly used for the donation of blood plasma and platelets) The stem cells could then be stored and returned later to an exposed worker’s body in a process called engraftment, (incorporation of grafted stem cells into the body) which would require a hospital stay and lengthy recovery process.
Although dozens of European hospitals have offered to aid in the stem cell tretment procedures, critics argue that such stem cell transplants would be irresponsible. They note that exposure to high levels of radiation would harm many areas of the body, not just the bone marrow; making stem cell bone marrow transplants far from a pancea for exposed nuclear workers who would also likely have damage to other systems in their bodies.
They also propose that such a procedure could make them less careful in avoiding exposure to radiation.