RERF to develop policy for expanding use of biosamples from A-bomb survivors in joint research

by Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writer

The Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), an organization jointly managed by the governments of Japan and the United States and located in Minami Ward, intends to develop a policy concerning the use of tissue samples in storage, including blood samples from A-bomb survivors. The policy will focus on creating an effective framework for collaborative research with other institutions in Japan and overseas, and how to gain the approval of the survivors who have provided these samples to RERF for their use in such research. On May 11, RERF held the first external advisory committee at Hiroshima University’s Faculty of Medicine, in Minami Ward, to hear the views of A-bomb survivors prior to developing this new direction.

RERF has been conducting health checkups for about 24,000 survivors every two years to investigate the effects of the atomic bombing on their health, and has stored about 720,000 bottles of blood and about 190,000 bottles of urine. However, to date, the survivors have only agreed that their samples can be used for RERF’s research. The policy under discussion would seek to promote gene-related research on the onset and prevention of diseases, including cancer, with other institutions and their advanced technologies.

During the first committee meeting, seven members including Sunao Tsuboi, chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Hidankyo), privately discussed such topics as whether it was acceptable to make use of the samples for this type of advanced research. After the meeting ended, Masao Kobayashi, a professor of the graduate school at Hiroshima University and an expert in pediatrics, who is serving as the vice chair of the committee, held a press conference and said that most of the committee members hope that these valuable samples can be used effectively. Meanwhile, Mr. Kobayashi added, “There are also issues involving the handling of personal information and the ethical issue of gene-level research,” and said that one of the challenges involves gaining the agreement of donors for the use of the samples for joint research.

With regard to research involving other research organizations, RERF plans to explain specific details of this research to the survivors when they receive health checkups and would like to obtain their agreement about the use of their samples. Within this fiscal year, the committee’s second meeting will take place and further details will be discussed. Ohtsura Niwa, the chairman of RERF, said, “We have very precious samples that no other institutions in the world hold. We would like to make use of these samples by reflecting on the perspectives of the A-bomb survivors and citizens.”

(Originally published on May 12, 2018)