Israel's Pluristem sees Japan's post-Fukushima nuclear medical need

Japan, which has served unwillingly as the testing ground for nuclear radiation for decades, is about to get new help for treating new victims.

Israel biotech Pluristem Therapeutics and Fukushima Medical University have signed a memorandum of understanding for testing the firm's new type of treatment involving the use of human placenta cells.

The intent of the work is to protect workers involved in decommissioning nuclear reactors, which Japan is in the process of doing in the area of Fukushima where the world's second-worst nuclear accident occurred nearly 5 years ago.

More than 70 years ago, before the effects of radiation were understood, the Japanese first experienced it when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In March 2011, an earthquake-induced tsunami wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdown of nuclear materials and releasing radiation to which cleanup workers were exposed, Reuters reports. The cleanup continues and is expected to take decades to complete.

Although hundreds of deaths occurred during the disaster, only one was believed caused by radiation exposure, termed Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS). The Japanese government did not acknowledge radiation was the cause of the death until two months ago.

In addition to protecting against future exposures in nuclear disasters and their cleanup operations, the belief is the research also could be used to treat cancer patients exposed to large doses of ARS during radiotherapy treatment.

Pluristem said it has been working on a method to avoid the reduction of blood-cell production by bone marrow by administering PLX-R18 cells to those exposed. A preclinical study already has shown the treatment highly effective in preventing that bone marrow failure. Pluristem is a leading developer of therapies using placenta-based cells.

With Fukushima Medical University, the plan is to develop PLX-R18 cells in preclinical trials not just for bone marrow failure, but also for radiation damage to skin, lung and gastrointestinal tract tissues.

The process of decommissioning the Fukushima facility, which was second only to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in size, is expected to take about 40 years in all.

Pluristem said in May that Japan's Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency had given a nod to plans for manufacturing PLX-PAD cells for use in clinical trials.

- here's the release from Pluristem
- and a story from Reuters