TT-613 -- Harvesting Fukushima Worker Stem Cells, e-biz news from Japan

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A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, May 15, 2011, Issue No. 613


- What's New -- Harvesting Fukushima Worker Stem Cells
- News -- People on welfare increase
- Candidate Roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback --
- News Credits

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What value do you put on human lives, particularly if you
know ahead of time that you can do something about it? This
is a question that was put before the Japanese government
at the end of March by a group of hematologists led by
Shuichi Taniguchi at the Toranomon Hospital and supported
by Professor Masahiro Kami at Tokyo University. The group
has named themselves "Save the Fukushima 50" -- in
reference to their plan to provide precautionary medical
treatment for the employees (originally 50 or so and now
over 800) who work at the plant helping to contain the
effects of multiple reactor meltdowns.

Taniguchi's proposal was that workers at the stricken
Fukushima power plant should start a medical treatment
program whereby their peripheral blood stem cells are
stimulated and harvested so as to be able to treat those
workers for radiation poisoning should a second major event
strike. Since seismologists expect a second major
aftershock of magnitude 8 or more and since this hasn't
happened yet, the chances of one happening are still high.
For this reason, not counting the selfless risks already
taken, Taniguchi and his colleagues think the "Fukushima
50" deserve special consideration.

Links for Taniguchi's proposal can be found here: (The Lancet)!/savefukushima50

The question is: do such a large number of people deserve
precautionary medical treatment if costly, inconvenient,
and possibly unnecessary? In the last couple of weeks, the
government has firmly said "no" to the proposal, but we
think this is a poor reading of the feelings of the nation,
which clearly values the efforts of the Fukushima 50.
Perhaps yesterday's announcement of another worker death at
the Fukushima plant, although not suspected as being
radiation related, will bring this proposal back into

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[...Article continues]

The Taniguchi proposal is based on stimulating and
harvesting blood stem cells from the bone marrows of
Fukushima workers who want (and their families want) to
have an "insurance policy" however, small, that they can
have treatment options available if they suffer radiation
poisoning. What sort of insurance? Well, in the event of
exposure to excess radiation, there are three
distinguishable levels of effect on the victim. The lowest
is either a cumulative or sudden-but-limited poisoning that
causes nausea, transient blood cell decrease, and other
physical effects, but the extent of which can be contained
by short-term hospitalization and treatment with supportive

In contrast, the highest level is the rapid detoriation of
the body's whole organs -- and this type of exposure can't
readily be resolved with current medical techniques, so the
person usually dies. In 1999, two Japanese power plant
workers died of organ failure after excess exposure.
However, it is the mid-level effects, that occur at up to 4-8
Sieverts of radiation, that the Tokyo hematologists want to
address. Specifically radiation exposure which causes the
development of infectious diseases, bleeding, and anemia
due to damaged bone marrow function.

For this level of poisoning and if appropriate, the
treatment is bone marrow transplants, a procedure that is
already well established for sufferers of leukemia. The
problem is that finding someone with matching bone marrow
or cord blood cells is a really difficult task, and the
treatment itself is complicated by rejection of the donated
cells, graft-versus-host disease, and the side effects of
immunosuppressants. However, by providing a victim with a
source of their own blood stem cells, which would have been
banked beforehand, you can significantly increase the
chance of successful treatment and avoid the problems
associated with donor cells.

The Save the Fukushima 50 group have told us that the
following reasons were given for a thumb's down by the PM's
office, the Nuclear Safety Commission and the Science
Council. We don't know which reasons are attributable to
whom, but we felt most are either pretty weak (e.g., low
likelihood of exposure), illogical, or money related. Given
that the government did not mind spending billions of yen
buying more than 35m doses of Tamiflu, most of which were
never used and will likely be disposed of, we wonder why
they would worry about money at this stage? Perhaps this is
more a case of "It wasn't our idea so we don't want to know
about it?" Or perhaps the treatment might drive home to
people the risks of working around an unstable source of
radiation and thus make it almost impossible to recruit a
clean-up crew...?

Here are the reasons they were given for the government
wanting to do nothing...:

* "The Fukushima 50 will not be heavily exposed to
radiation because they are always checking the level of
* "Your proposal is not accepted by society nor experts
* "The use of autologous peripheral blood stem cells will
be useless if patients are heavily poisoned by radiation."
* "Your proposal would only work for certain exposure
levels of radiation."
* "The risk of people getting sick from the stimulative
drug injections is high."
* "This will be expensive." [Ed: Indeed, it costs
JPY400,000-JPY500,000 per person.]
* "Since we don't know who might be heavily exposed to
radiation, this will be a waste of time, resources and

We agree that there are some valid concerns: the process of
mobilizing stem cells to harvest is started with the
administration of special drugs and these drugs have some
side effects -- leading to one probable reason why the
Science Council of Japan has turned down the proposal.
However, the standard drug, granulocyte-colony stimulating
factor, has already been used for more than 10 years for
healthy volunteer donors of bone marrow worldwide including
Japan. This standard method takes about four days to
complete but can be shortened to two days with the use of
another drug not yet approved for use in Japan. This second
drug is actively being used in the USA, Europe, and even
Korea, and it is only a matter of time before is will be
permitted here in Japan.

Another concern is cost and efficacy. After the drugs are
administered, the recipient's bone marrow starts to produce
excess stem cells which are released into the blood stream
and these cells are extracted, stored, and banked for
future contingencies. The process is not cheap and it means
that all of the 800 or so employees at risk would need to
take 3-7 days for the treatment at a hospital and to

A couple of good links for more on this topic can be found
here: (Guardian) (Science Magazine) (Time)

But the Tokyo hematologists say, if a stem cell banking
program offers the promise of saving lives if things don't
go well, and since the Japanese public would agree the
Fukushima 50 deserve preferential treatment, then the
procedure should surely be offered to those who want it
-- much the same as Tamiflu shots were offered to
parents to protect kids and old people against bird flu
back in 2004-2008. The mystery is why the government
doesn't see it this way and why they don't seem to mind
the Fukushima 50 making the ultimate sacrifice?

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+++ NEWS

- Near-record number of people on welfare
- PM Kan wants Tepco retirees to bear some of pain
- Contrarian retail FX investors bet against Yen
- Listed Systems Integration company in trouble?
- Realtor income falls amid office rentals decline

-> Near-record number of people on welfare

According to the Welfare Ministry, there were 1,989,769
people on welfare in February, prior to the earthquake, the
highest level in 60 years, when there were 2.04m people on
welfare in 1952. Since this number does not include the
effects of the Tohoku earthquake, it appears that a new
record may be set in April or May this year. ***Ed: And a
new underclass appears in Japan...** (Source: TT commentary
from, May 13, 2011)

-> PM Kan wants Tepco retirees to bear some of pain

In an "everybody is in this together" moment, Prime
Minister Naoto Kan has said that Tokyo Electric Power Co.,
(TEPCO) should ensure that the burden of losses and
compensation are fairly carried by TEPCO employees as well
as the public. To that end he is calling for TEPCO to cut
pensions and retirement pay significantly as a condition to
getting government aid in meeting the flood of compensation
claims the utility is facing. Kan's statement echoed an
opinion by Your Party representative Kenji Nakanishi, in
parliamentary questioning, that since Japan Airlines
employees had their pensions cut by 50% and existing
retirees by 30% in order for JAL to get a government bail
out, then TEPCO employees should get the same
treatment. ***Ed: Of course TEPCO doesn't want to do this,
but it's hard to see how they can dodge this particular
bullet.** (Source: TT commentary from, May 14,

-> Contrarian retail FX investors bet against Yen

According to a Nikkei article, and contrary to market
wisdom of professional traders, it appears that Japan's
retail FX investors are betting that the Aussie dollar and
Euro will do better against the yen than is otherwise
indicated in recent exchange movements. Apparently the
Tokyo Financial Exchange's Click 365 market features a
significantly higher number of net long positions on
foreign currencies versus the yen, currently the highest
ratio in the last 2 months. ***Ed: You know what they say
about the wisdom of individual investors -- they often
turn out to be right!** (Source: TT commentary from, May 14, 2011)

-> Listed Systems Integration company in trouble?

Figures just announced by Japan Third Party (JTP), a
mid-sized Tokyo systems integration company specializing in
servicing customers of major foreign IT manufacturers, show
that the firm has not yet figured out a recovery strategy
in the wake of the Lehman Shock. JTP has reported a revenue
decrease of 12% to JPY5.22bn, and a consolidated net loss
of JPY148m. While this doesn't sound like much, the company
seems to be following a downwards trend likely related to
its disappearing market of foreign companies. ***Ed: Unless
JTP comes up with a replacement strategy pretty quickly, we
think this company will be an M&A candidate within the next
12 months.**

-> Realtor income falls amid office rentals decline

Sumitomo Realty, Japan’s third largest real estate
developer, has announced that its net earnings fell 3.3%
because of the current weak office rental market which has
led to their highest vacancy rate of 9% in 6 years. The
problem is clearly with businesses pulling back on
expansion plans, as Sumitomo still managed to increase its
residential sales by 15%. (Source: TT commentary from, May 12, 2011)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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No events for this coming week.



In this section we run comments and corrections submitted
by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and
amplify our points, by email, to

*** In TT612 we referenced a website that we called Actually it is As soon as
we sent it out we started to kick ourselves for mixing it
up... ;-)

=> Reader Comment:
Just picked up on the comment of returning to normal
people may forget... Actually I reckon it is better to
return to normal as quickly as possible, and to get the
economy pumping again.

Volunteers and donations can only go so far. Major
charities and government action is what is really needed
because of the scale.

I am impressed by how the country has bounced back in some
areas but the "mourning" aspect and fear of "what happens
next" has probably been a bigger negative effect on
survivors than worry about "forgetting". I really think
focus on the mid-term recovery is where we ought to be
looking as a nation.


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Not to be rude, but the Lehman Shock happened over 2 1/2 years ago. If the company has not figured out a new strategy by now, then they deserve to be an M&A candidate. Not being harsh; just truthful. In these times, companies need to be nimble, and constantly looking for new growth areas.

The problem of course is their market, which is of foreign companies in Japan. As companies realign their strategies and resources allocations around Asia, and generally away from Japan, this is diminishing the size of the market they can deal with. So the fundamental premise of the company itself is in question.

Many other companies in similar situations, and reinvention mid-stream is not a strong Japanese suit.