Huge scale of A-bomb gene study revealed

Medical records of 1,200 babies of hibakusha shipped to U.S.

Kyodo

Organ samples and medical records on more than 1,200 babies who were stillborn or died shortly after birth after being carried by mothers who survived the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sent to the United States for radiation research, a researcher in Hiroshima says.

It has been known that the United States conducted research on how radiation influences genetics, and that samples from A-bomb victims and their newborns in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sent there during the Allied Occupation following World War II. But this is believed to be the first time that the scale of the study has been revealed because it was classified as military information and thus had been secret.

Hiroko Takahashi, an assistant professor at the Hiroshima Peace Institute, has said internal documents from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology show that some 77,000 newborns were studied between 1948 and 1954. She estimates that tissue samples and records from more than 1,200 newborns were sent to the United States.

“Newborns were treated in the same way as guinea pigs for the study of nuclear weapons and radiation,” Takahashi said, adding that the “current radiation standard” is based upon that.

In February 1951, Elbert DeCoursey, then director of the AFIP, asked the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, which was conducting research in Japan, to send fixed samples from newborns to the U.S.

The AFIP received a reply in April the same year from Grant Taylor, director of the ABCC, saying it would send several hundred samples preserved in formalin within two months, Takahashi said, citing the documents.

About 850 body organs and parts of babies were sent to the United States between 1952 and 1953, and several thousand tissue samples were sent in 1955, she said, adding that a total of 1,250 medical records were shipped there between 1951 and 1955.

The ABCC concluded after the research that there was no genetic influence stemming from radiation at that stage.

“Almost 100 percent of the newborns in the city of Hiroshima were studied and if they died, an autopsy was performed on all of them,” a former Japanese researcher said.

The ABCC took advantage of the food rationing system in place in Japan at the time, which gave priority to pregnant women, to obtain information on their whereabouts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most of the doctors and nurses there told the ABCC when newborns died because they were asked to cooperate. Some of the body samples and medical records were returned to Japan from around 1970 and are now being kept at Hiroshima University and Nagasaki University.