FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

200activities normally associated with graduation were cancelled. But later, a scaled-back stand-up event was organized in the Alumni Association Building. After a call to order, a minute of silence was observed for disaster victims and their families. Remarkably, there were no helicopter arrivals or departures to disturb the silence.Inspiring words from Professor Masafumi Abe, FMU Vice President, appear on page two of the press release. His words might make the graduation day pictures easier to appreciate, with no further captions.March 26-27, 2011This weekend, Professor Yasuhiro Hashimoto is on the roster to measure radiation levels at the hospital. Let’s join him for one round.We meet for lunch at Harunoya, open again for walk-in customers and, gasoline permitting, deliveries to the university.Radiation, in carefully controlled circumstances, is both a therapeutic and diagnostic tool. Whole-body irradiation is a conditioning step prior to bone marrow transplant. Radioactive iodine is used to deliberately ablate thyroid function in certain endocrine diseases. Today, we are visiting the Department of Radiology, where members must pay special attention to radiation exposure incidental to patient care. They have surveillance equipment, including a portable gamma-ray detector that Professor Hashimoto will take to specific locations in the hospital.Our rounds with the gamma detector include patient rooms in various departments, and other designated locations, for example, in post-operative intensive care.Perhaps the most important place to measure radiation is the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Shown here, a check of the air supply to a premature neonate. Radiation levels recorded by Professor Hashimoto and others would be used for immediate action, if needed. Otherwise, the numbers are uploaded to a database for ongoing assessment.At a Japanese medical university, there is generally one full professor in each department, who serves as its chair, often until retirement. The system has been likened to a pyramid, but what is it like to be at the top?Professor Hashimoto directs leading-edge glycomics research, aimed at diagnosing serious neurological disorders, including Alzheimer dementia. A weekend at the university would normally be for academic activities, but this Saturday and Sunday, he is also a radiation technologist.Scholars around the world know Professor Hitoshi Ohto for research in transfusion-associated graft-versus host disease (TA-GVHD) and other topics. (TA-GVHD, by the way, is prevented in susceptible patients by irradiating blood prior to transfusion.) Some of his titles are: Chair, Department of Blood Transfusion and Transplantation Immunology; Dean, School of Medicine; and President, Japan Society of Transfusion Medicine and Cell Therapy. To patients in Fukushima, however, he is a kindly physician who attends to therapeutic apheresis and personally draws blood from autologous donors. Power and service seem to be related here.March 29, 2011Radioactive material escaping from a nuclear power plant is a serious matter. Those who produce electricity, and those who consume it, will be answering some hard questions from now on. Our gadgets run on electricity. Our bodies run on food, and in Fukushima, some of our food has been tainted with radioactive iodine (I-131), at or above levels deemed appropriate for consumption. Long-term health consequences must be considered, especially for young people. There are also immediate economic consequences. Labor-intensive farming in Japan produces some of the best food I have ever tasted, and much of that food has now been condemned out of Words to the World