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Israeli Scientist Who Treated Chernobyl Nuclear Victims Warns the West Could Face Similar Problems

An Israeli expert in tissue typing and bone marrow transplants warned here Monday that the West could suffer the same problems in treating victims of radiation exposure as did the Soviet Union in the aftermath of last April’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The Israeli, Dr. Yair Reisner, urged taking measures that would avoid some of the problems that he encountered when treating patients in Moscow last May. He urged advanced tissue typing of persons who work in facilities or situations where the danger of radiation exposure exists.

While the West has much more experience in the field of tissue typing and bone marrow transplants, Reisner warned that, “God forbid, if something happened, you’ll have the same problems, the same tactical problems in finding donors as the Russians had.”

Reisner’s remarks were made to reporters at a news conference at the Harvard Club sponsored by the American Committee of the Weizmann Institute of Science, the main fund-raising arm of the Institute based in Rehovot, Israel. Reisner is in the U.S. on a 19-day tour of nine cities.

In addition, he is scheduled to receive Monday night the Elliott Osserman Career Development Award from the Israel Cancer Research Fund. The award is given to outstanding scientists in cancer research.

SOVIET OFFICIALS AWARE HE WAS AN ISRAELI

Reisner, who was born in 1948, was one of a team of four experts — three from the United States — who went to the Soviet Union to treat victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. He reported Monday that he entered the USSR with his Israeli passport without a Soviet visa. He said he was met at Moscow airport by Ministry of Health officials who issued him a visa on the spot, well aware that he is an Israeli.

Reisner said the Soviets reported that of the 299 persons directly affected by the accident at the nuclear power station — technicians, firefighters and guards who were inside the building — 35 were severely ill with radiation poisoning.

He said bone marrow transplants were performed on only 19 persons and another six victims were beyond treatment, he reported. He said 30 of the 35 ill with radiation poisoning died. He also indicated he had no plans to return to check on the work performed in Moscow Hospital No. 6.

Reisner told the press Monday that while the United States would be better prepared to deal with radiation exposure victims, he suggested that no country is really prepared for such an accident.

He said precious time would be lost in looking for donors, and for that reason he suggested establishing tissue typing facilities. He said tissue typing would allow for patients to have knowledge of a donor in the family or elsewhere who could aid in a bone marrow transplant.

A revolutionary method of bone marrow purification that Reisner helped develop reduces the chance of rejection of the marrow transplanted from a donor. The cell separation technique significantly increases the success of marrow transplants in children suffering from leukemia or genetic defects that deprive them of immune defenses. Reisner obtained his Bachelor of Science degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1972 and his Masters degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1974. He received his Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot in 1980 and was appointed senior scientist there in 1981.

He filled a post doctoral fellowship at the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York in 1978-79 and was a visiting investigator there from 1980-81. Since 1983 he has occupied the Dr. Phil Gold Career Development Chair in Cancer Research, in perpetuity, at the Weizmann Institute. The chair was established by the Montreal chapter of the Canadian Society for the Weizmann Institute.

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