North Carolina, Ukrainian Researchers to Assess Radiation Health Effects at Chernobyl Site

Article ID: 526735

Released: 23-Jan-2007 2:45 PM EST

Source Newsroom: RTI International

  • Credit: Jimmy Crawford, RTI International photographer.

    Michael Saumhel, Ph.D., RTI International senior research statistician.

Newswise — Three North Carolina research institutions have teamed up with a research institute in Ukraine on an ambitious project to advance the knowledge, diagnostics and treatment of exposure to ionizing radiation.

As part of the project, researchers will monitor and study the radiation exposure and possible related health effects among workers at the Chernobyl site who are building a new radiation containment system.

Knowledge gained through the study will not only protect those involved in the construction project, but also will further scientific understanding of the health effects of nuclear radiation. Workers will wear appropriate protective clothing, equipment and dosimeters to monitor their radiation exposure.

"There is a unique opportunity to do medical and genetic measurements on these workers before, during and after exposures to various levels of ionizing radiation," said Geoff Ginsburg, M.D., Ph.D., of Duke University's Center for Genomic Medicine. "This will help develop diagnostics and treatments to protect people who work with nuclear materials, and also to protect the public in case of a release of radiation, such as a nuclear terrorism attack."

The project, originally designated by Congress as the "Chernobyl Research and Service Project," has been renamed the "International Consortium for Applied Radiation Research" by mutual agreement of the institutions. The project is initially being funded for one year by a $5 million cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy. Researchers hope to identify additional funding that would allow them to conduct long-term monitoring of study participants.

The research team includes members from RTI International, Duke University Medical Center, the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the Research Center for Radiation Medicine of Ukraine.

Workers' health will be monitored during the construction project and afterwards for a period of time yet to be determined. Workers who experience health effects from exposure during the study will be removed from the radiation zone and provided appropriate medical treatment and counseling.

"Once the baseline medical and genetic data become available, opportunities open up for medical research by universities, government agencies and companies that are concerned not only about radiation exposures, but also about diseases such as cancer that have genetic components," said Michael Samuhel, Ph.D., of RTI, who is the project director.

Soon after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident (April 26, 1986) in Ukraine, officials quickly constructed a concrete protective shield intended to contain the radiation. Twenty years later, the aging Chernobyl shelter (the destroyed reactor together with its concrete "sarcophagus") contains about 95 percent of the plant's nuclear fuel inventory, and it has been slowly leaking.

The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, funded by 28 countries including the United States, provided Ukraine with funds to temporarily stabilize the sarcophagus, and in 2003, again provided funds to launch the Chernobyl Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP). The objective of the SIP is to make the area environmentally safe for at least 50 years, or until an approach is developed for the ultimate disposal of the irradiated materials at the site. The 20,000-ton structure is expected to be completed in 2008.

In 2005, screening began for between 8,000 and 10,000 people -- including clean-up workers, nuclear power industry professionals and volunteers -- who will participate in the reconstruction work.

About RTI International RTI International is one of the world's leading research institutes, dedicated to improving the human condition by turning knowledge into practice. With projects in more than 40 countries and a staff of more than 2,600, RTI offers innovative research and technical solutions to governments and businesses worldwide in the areas of health and pharmaceuticals, education and training, surveys and statistics, advanced technology, democratic governance, economic and social development, energy, and the environment. For more information, visit http://www.rti.org.

About Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & PolicyThe Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP) is Duke University's response to the genome revolution, with global, comprehensive approaches to the study of life. The IGSP conducts focused research in the areas of pharmacogenetics, genomic medicine, population genomics, evolutionary genomics, genome biology, genome technology, computational biology, bioinformatics, genome ethics, law, and policy. Through interdisciplinary investigations, the IGSP uses genome sciences and policy together to understand and improve human health, life and experience. Learn more at http://www.genome.duke.edu.


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