A Report on the RSH Symposium on the Medical Benefits of Low Dose Radiation
Reprinted with permission of the author
by Dr. Jerry Cuttler, Cuttler and Associates
A symposium on this subject was held in Washington, November 15, near the ANS/ENS Winter Meeting. It was sponsored by Radiation, Science and Health (RSH), an international non-profit organization, and the Center for Nuclear Technology and Society at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), MA.
The purpose was to review the relevant scientific data and to inform researchers and physicians about current knowledge on the beneficial health effects of low doses of radiation. Some of the activities underway to challenge the scientific basis for radiation protection policies were also discussed. The symposium featured a variety of speakers from Canada, USA, Japan, Germany and the UK. Invited speakers from Poland and China were unable to attend.
Ron Mitchel of AECL/Health Canada started the event with a one-hour tutorial titled, “The biological imperative: low-dose radiation stimulation.” Current practices for the management of ionizing radiation exposure, either for the purposes of radiation protection or for medical therapy, rely on long held assumptions that all exposures create risk in the exposed cells, and that the effects are linearly proportional to dose, without a threshold. A wealth of experimental evidence indicates that these basic assumptions break down at low doses and dose rates, seriously challenging current radiation protection practices as well as identifying biological responses that can be exploited for medical therapy. Until recently, that evidence tended to be dismissed, and was not considered to be a serious challenge to the established assumptions. However, recent advances in molecular and cellular biology have placed such observations on a secure scientific footing. This presentation reviewed the biology of low dose/low dose rate ionizing radiation exposure and provided examples of the consequences in cells and in animals. This tutorial was an elaboration of the very popular paper, with Doug Boreham, featured at Plenary Session 1 of the May 10 IRPA-10 conference in Hiroshima, titled “Radiation protection in the world of modern radiobiology: time for a new approach” and at the “Eye-Opener” tutorial session presented by Dr. Boreham.
Myron Pollycove MD of NRC/UCSF then gave a very polished presentation of his paper, with Ludwig Feinendegen MD, titled “Cellular and organism dose-response: biopositive (health benefit) effects” in which he explained how the genes in every cell continuously undergo an immense amount of metabolic damage by reactive oxygen species (ROS) which is prevented, repaired and removed by a complex anti-mutagenic system. Recent studies document low dose radiation stimulation of many cellular functions, including antioxidant prevention, enzymatic repair, and immunologic and apoptotic removal of DNA damage. A ten, or even a hundredfold increase in background radiation stimulates this homeostatic system. Enhanced prevention of gene mutations by the spatial and temporal differences of ionizing radiation ROS and metabolic ROS is associated with radiation hormesis: decreased mortality and decreased cancer mortality observed in populations exposed to low dose radiation. Therapeutic stimulation of the immune system by low dose body irradiation prevents and removes cancer metastases in mice, rats, and humans. This paper, which quantifies the effects, is based on the keynote lectures he presented at the International Conference on Radiation and its Role in Diagnoses and Treatment, in Tehran in October.
These were followed by short presentations by physicians, biologists and others, who reported on their activities and commented on other presentations. Don Luckey, author of two books and many papers on radiation hormesis, outlined the results of many studies on nuclear workers and repeated his often-stated contention that ionizing radiation is essential for life and that more radiation would enhance our health. He related the reductions in cancer in exposed workers (as compared to cancer in workers with negligible or no occupational doses) to the reductions in premature cancers that supplemental radiation would achieve in the public, if not prevented by the biases and deceptions presented by supporters of the LNT hypothesis.
Sadao Hattori summarized the remarkable achievements of recent Japanese research on the biological effects of low doses. Their program has been reorganized under new, dynamic leadership. New data were presented on suppression of tumor induction in mice by chronic low dose-rate gamma irradiation, suppressive effect of low-dose irradiation on diabetes and the suppressive effect on lipid peroxide in the mouse brain (of interest for Parkinson’s disease).
Ed Bauser talked about the low-dose irradiation (LDI) therapy he has been receiving at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute (see “Application of Low Doses of Radiation for Curing Cancer,” Cuttler, Pollycove, and Welsh). The therapy delivered last April to Ed’s spleen (a part of his immune system) stabilized his IgM level, and his blood viscosity readings (which are the real cause of symptoms) were lowered. He had just completed his second booster at JHMI, and was feeling very good as he distributed copies of his blood analysis chart. Based on his delayed response to the splenic irradiation, further improvement in his condition is expected to continue over the next two months time.
I gave a presentation titled “Challenges in providing low-dose irradiation therapy” in which I described the difficulties I encountered over the past year in communicating information on beneficial health effects of low doses to Canadian radiation oncologists and urging them to try this form of therapy on cancer patients. Fourteen barriers were identified. I also outlined the proposal, approved October 6 by the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer, for a randomized clinical trial of low-dose total body irradiation (LD TBI) and involved field (local high-dose) radiotherapy (IF-RT) for patients with localized non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The objectives include confirming the immediate efficacy of LD TBI and testing whether the addition of LD TBI to a patient receiving IF-RT will increase survival. One group of 172 patients will receive the standard therapy of 40 Gy of IF-RT (in ~2 Gy fractions over a four week period), while the other group of 172 patients will receive 1.5 Gy of LD-TBI (ten 15 cGy fractions) followed by the same treatment of IF-RT as the control group. Fifteen clinics will participate in this trial. Dr. Richaud of Bergonie Institute sent me the proposal for review, and I fed back comments from Dr. Sakamoto and Dr. Pollycove. Copies of the proposal were provided to several cancer treatment centres in Ontario for their input.
Ed Calabrese, Professor at UMass-Amherst, was the luncheon speaker. He related his early research work in toxicology and pharmacology, and how he encountered, repeatedly, evidence of hormesis. He had reported on his experience with chemical hormesis at the 1985 “Oakland Conference” (organized by Leonard Sagan at EPRI) following Dr. Hattori’s inquiries about Don Luckey’s 1982 Health Physics paper, which appeared in the May 1987 special issue of the Health Physics Journal on Radiation Hormesis. Ed described the formation of the Biological Effects of Low Level Exposures (BELLE) organization following a 1989 Science magazine treatment of the subject by Dr. Sagan and Sheldon Wolfe at UCSF, now at RERF. Support from the chemical industry led him to carry out (with Linda Baldwin) an extensive survey of the literature to identify evidence of chemical hormesis. They subsequently supplemented this survey, for the NRC, to cover radiation hormesis. Ed also described political and funding difficulties he encountered, and the lack of recognition and acceptance of the data within the toxicology and related science establishments. [Ed: See Calabrese and Baldwin on the scientific foundations and historical dismissal of the evidence for biological benefits at low doses of chemical and radiation exposures.]
Klaus Becker presented “Radon: Health Risks and/or Benefits? A View from Europe.” He pointed out that there is no difference in biological response between natural and artificial radiation. Regulations should be consistent for both, but we “swim in a sea of contradictions and uncertainties,” along with background radiation. At the “5th High Natural Background Radiation” conference in Munich in September, ~310 scientists from forty countries discussed the science and the politics, which led to the present double standards. Natural radiation is, by far, more significant than human-made radiation (see Figure 1 by Rockwell from Jaworowski, 2000, based on UNSCEAR 2000 data.).
Many people come for medically supervised treatment of chronic illnesses at radon spas in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and other countries. Costs are covered by many European medical insurance plans. There are many other such facilities world wide, including the very popular Misasa radon springs in Japan.
Patricia Lewis, owner of the Free Enterprise Health Mine, originally a uranium mine that has been operated for radon exposure since 1952 in Boulder, Montana, spoke briefly about the many guests over the past 50 years and the remarkable cures achieved, immediately or several months after the ten days of therapy. She referred to the study [Ed: see “Low Dose Radon as Alternative Therapy”] that is being carried out by U of Nevada-Reno medical anthropologist Barbra Erickson on the hundreds of people who visit each year from all over the USA and Canada, as well as the experience in Europe and elsewhere.
John Cameron discussed the $10 million DOE Nuclear Shipyard Worker Study carried out in the 1980s by Genevieve Matanoski of Johns Hopkins University. The data indicate clearly that the moderate radiation doses received by the 28,000 most exposed workers were beneficial to their health when compared to 33,000 unexposed age-matched and job-matched nuclear shipyard workers. The exposed workers also had a significantly lower cancer death rate (though this fact was NOT reported when the study was “released” in 1991) and a much lower death rate from all causes (24% lower, highly statistically significant) compared to the unexposed workers. The death rate of the exposed workers was 16 standard deviations lower! The important findings of this study, completed in early 1988, have never been published in a scientific journal or made known to the public, or the workers. The DOE ignores this study, while it is planning to pay the nuclear workers compensation for the damage to their health!
Jim Muckerheide, president of RSH, and Ted Rockwell, vice president, discussed the ethics of many scientists, regulators and administrators in suppressing and ignoring the scientific data that contradicts current policy. They contend “it’s time to tell the truth about the health benefits of low-dose radiation.” [Ed: See the article. They have been organizing sessions at ANS conferences since 1994 on the health effects data of low dose radiation, and participating in many conferences to communicate the large amount of scientific information on this subject. Recently, they have begun to apply the science in mounting legal challenges, including, e.g., to go to court if necessary on the EPA’s proposed regulation on radionuclides in water. They have challenged DOE’s false reports on radiation health effects in workers to the DOE Inspector General, and most recently to the Fraud Unit of the U.S. General Accounting Office, and have introduced this data in Congressional hearings that are anticipated to continue in the next sessions. Information on these matters can be found at RSH website: http://cnts.wpi.edu/RSH/Docs/Correspondence/
Kipp Coddington, of Covington and Burling, a prestigious Washington law firm, explained the RSH legal actions currently underway. This was followed by a short presentation by Roger Shaw, a certified health physicist, attached to McCarter & English, Attorneys at Law, who are representing a nuclear utilities group organized to defend against workers lawsuits alleging radiation exposure as a cause of cancers based on the unscientific regulatory policies.
A dinner at the National Press Club followed the symposium. I was seated beside the managing editor of a popular science and technology magazine, and we got onto the topic of LDI therapy for cancer patients. She mentioned that the wife of a close friend is ill with ovarian cancer. I pointed out that Dr. Sakamoto’s first LDI patient had prior surgery for ovarian cancer. Her friend has since contacted Dr. Welsh at JHMI to arrange LDI therapy for his wife, who is too weak after surgery (and a respiratory infection) to undergo standard chemotherapy. Her doctors are willing to consider it. Stay tuned.