Japanese medical experts are advising blood be taken from workers at the Fukushima nuclear plant to prepare for possible future stem cell transplants if they are exposed to damaging levels of radiation.

According to a report in the medical journal the Lancet, doctors from the Cancer Institute, the Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research and Toranomon Hospital in Tokyo are urging the blood samples to be taken as soon as possible, as radiation is still a danger.

“The danger of a future accidental radiation exposure is not passed, since there has been a series of serious aftershocks even [during] this April,” the team of doctors said in the report.

The cells that are at the highest risk to radiation exposure include rapidly dividing cells like intestinal-tract cells, reproductive cells, and haemopoietic cells, which are the precursor to stem cells that cover a wide range of areas in the body.

Doctors say if the blood is taken now, then should the need arise where workers require treatment because of the effects of radiation, they can undergo an autologous transplant—a transplant using their own stem cells.

Previous nuclear disasters have only utilized allogeneic stem cell transplants, which uses stem cells from a donor. These transplants pose major limitations, like immune suppression, donor searching and graft failure.

An autologous stem cell transplantation using a collection of the patient’s peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) own stem cells has several advantages. It does not require immunosuppressant drugs, and can restore normal function in the body quicker. The collection method is safe, and the cells are easily frozen and stored. It can be used to treat leukemia and bone marrow defects.

The authors wrote that 107 transplant teams are ready in Japan to collect and store stem cells from the nuclear plant workers, along with 50 European hospitals.

The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan is resisting the plan, stating “physical and psychological burden for nuclear workers,” and “no consensus among international authoritative bodies, and no sufficient agreement among the Japanese public.”

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