Hormone Said to Help Radiation Victims
Physician Robert Gale said Sunday a new medical treatment that stimulates bone marrow cells to divide appears to have helped the first people it has been tested on--victims of a radiation accident in Brazil.
Gale, a bone marrow expert from UCLA, flew to the Soviet Union last year to perform bone marrow transplants on victims of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, but more recently joined experts from six countries in treating radiation victims in Goiania, Brazil.
Speaking at a meeting of the American Society of Hematology, Gale said the treatment, involving a genetically engineered hormone produced two years ago, was tested for the first time on eight victims of a radiation accident in Goiania.
The victims were among 30 people who were exposed to radioactive Cesium-137 powder in September after a scrap metal dealer broke open an abandoned radiotherapy machine. Four people, including a 6-year-old girl who ate some of the powder, have died from radiation illnesses or from infections.
Gale said 18 people exposed to the radioactive substance suffered bone marrow failure in which the body stops producing critical white blood cells that are needed to fight infections and help blood to clot.
In eight of these patients the condition was potentially reversible, Gale said, because the marrow cells that produce the white blood cells had not been totally destroyed.
These eight were given a hormone called granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor.
“It stimulates primitive bone marrow cells to divide and thereby shortens the period of bone marrow failure,” Gale said of the treatment.
The colony stimulating factor is produced naturally in the human body, but in very minute quantities.
“There’s no question that these people responded to” the treatment, Gale said, adding that within 12 hours there was a rapid increase in critical white blood cell counts.
“These people are going to recover now,” Gale said.
Gale said Cesium-137 is excreted in sweat, so the radiation victims have become “health nuts” and are on heavy exercise regimes to sweat the cesium out of their bodies. They also are given diuretics to help speed excretion of the radioactive material.
Gale said in the long run as many as 5,000 people may be at risk of suffering cancer from direct or indirect exposure to the radiation in Brazil.