Former spy's death causes public health alertBMJ 2006; 333 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39048.690116.DB (Published 30 November 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1137
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The death of Alexander Litvinenko is indeed a chilling reminder of the lethal effects of radiation. But earlier in the course of his mysterious decline there was concern about marrow failure thought to be related to some heavy metal poisoning. At that time my thoughts went to the clinical scenario that I have to face which is the total body shut down associated with the major burn injury. We have hypothesized that with the marrow suppression from burn wound toxins and increased marrow demand for dealing with infection and wound healing, marrow exhaustion occurs. Our speculation is that if we can preserve the autologous marrow by infusing a replaceable alternative that can act as a stem cell source, we will have a better chance of gaining time to address the ongoing problems, for example surgically removing the burn wound. What, I wonder would have happened if Alexander Litvinenko had been given daily infusions of ABO matched fresh whole human umbilical cord blood(HUCB). It is this free, and naturally available human resource that we are considering for our burn patients. With over 100 million births each year, the human race is producing over 10 million litres of an amazing resource the vast majority of which is simply discarded.
I do no know if there would have been any way to remove the polonium- 210 from Mr Litvinenko but if there had been, HUCB, could have bought the time to do it. Now the search is on for others at risk of radiation poisoning. If such patients should arise I hope they will be in the care of doctors with the vision and courage to explore the untapped potential of HUCB as a free and readily available source of clinical stem cell therapy which is not subject to the ethical concerns and constraints of either foetal or embryonic stem cells.
Competing interests: None declared
Competing interests: No competing interests