RERF external advisory committee’s deliberations about genomic analysis of second-generation A-bomb survivors to be reflected in research plan

by Kana Kobayashi, Staff Writer

An external advisory committee established by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), located in Hiroshima’s Minami Ward, met on two days, August 21 and 25, to discuss RERF’s plans for genome (entire genetic information) analysis of second-generation A-bomb survivors. Going forward, A-bomb survivors, second-generation A-bomb survivors, and leading outside experts will meet to deliberate on how such genetic information should be handled and how the research should proceed, with the aim of formulating suggestions that RERF will reflect in the research plan.

The genome analysis project will meticulously examine the entire genome of groups of three people, made up of a survivor parent, a spouse, and a second-generation child, to investigate whether genetic damage due to radiation exposure from the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima was passed down from parent to child and the extent of that damage, if any.

The advisory committee, chaired by Shigeru Katamine, former president of Nagasaki University, consists of 14 committee members, including survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, second-generation survivors, and legal and natural-science specialists. The two-day closed meeting was held online. After the meeting concluded on August 25, Mr. Katamine and Ohtsura Niwa, RERF chairman, addressed the media in an online press conference.

According to Mr. Katamine, RERF explained its vision of the research to the committee at the meeting, and attendees conveyed their opinions concerning the aims and methodologies of the research as well as possible societal impacts. Committee members requested that RERF handle the genetic information with great care and expressed hope that genetic effects would be clarified. They also voiced concerns about the impact of the study’s findings on second-generation A-bomb survivors.

Mr. Katamine remarked at the press conference, “We might be able to settle the longstanding issue to some extent about whether there were genetic effects. Considering the circumstances, such as the need for careful handling of genetic information and the potential societal impact, it will be very profound research. Careful discussions have to be carried out at the same time transparency is maintained.”

Mr. Niwa explained, “This research involves an unresolved issue that we truly hope to work on. However, we first need to consult with people involved about their opinions. We cannot go as far as to say a decision on starting the research has been reached.” Mr. Niwa did not address the issue of when the study was expected to begin.

The committee is expected to meet four or five more times before proposing suggestions to RERF.


Genome analysis
A technique for exploring pathogenic mechanisms and other information through comprehensive examination of genetic information inherited by children from their parents. Analysis of genomic information from second-generation A-bomb survivors will be conducted using blood samples provided by survivor parents, spouses, and their children, with the aim of investigating genetic damage from radiation exposure passed down from parents.

Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF)
With the aim of examining the long-term health effects of exposure to radiation from the atomic bombings, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC), RERF’s predecessor organization, was founded in 1947. Later, based in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ABCC began a study of about 120,000 A-bomb survivors. In 1975, ABCC was reorganized into RERF, which is jointly funded and managed by the governments of Japan and the United States. RERF has studied associations between A-bomb survivors’ radiation exposures at the time of the atomic bombings and subsequent cancer incidence and mortality rates. The organization also continues studies of cancer incidence and mortality rates in about 77,000 second-generation A-bomb survivors.

(Originally published on August 26, 2021)