This project, being delivered by Brunel University London, will carry out chromosomal analysis of cells from nuclear test veterans and their children. The purpose of the study is to examine for any cytogenetic alterations and, to ascertain if there are any differences between nuclear and control family groups.
Study of the health effects of nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s and 1960s
Background and study aims
The British Government undertook a series of atmospheric nuclear weapons tests at various sites in Australia and the South Pacific between 1952 and 1958. Associated with these tests was an experimental programme in which radioactivity was dispersed into the environment. This programme ended in 1963 although operations continued through to 1967. Additionally, UK personnel participated in a series of American tests based at Christmas Island in 1962. It is estimated that over 20,000 UK servicemen participated in at least one of these British and American tests.
An ongoing concern within the nuclear test community has been whether veterans of these programmes could have received sufficient radiation exposure to cause genetic damage (changes to the DNA) in them. Genetic damage can increase the risk of developing various diseases. This concern extends to whether they might also have passed on genetic alterations to their children, thereby potentially affecting their family’s health.
The aim of this study is to determine whether there is any evidence of genetic alteration in veterans of historical nuclear test sites and/or their children when compared to control family groups.
Who will be studied?
We will identify armed forces veterans from military records of personnel serving in the Tropics during the 1950s and 1960s. Half the veterans in the study will have been at British nuclear test sites and half (the control group) will have served elsewhere. We would like to include 100 military veteran family trios (an armed forces veteran, their spouse or partner, and a biological child they have together) from across the UK, including 50 nuclear test veterans and 50 control veterans who served in the Tropics but were not present at nuclear test sites.
What does the study involve?
UK veterans are identified using military records and they and their wives/partners are invited to take part through receiving a letter from their GP practice. The Confidential Advisory Group has approved the linkage of NHS number and date of birth to GP practice details by NHS Digital, who would then forward this information to the research team at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in order to invite potentially eligible veteran couples to participate in this study via their GP practice. If the veteran couple show an interest in the study by returning a reply slip to the study team, they will receive a phone call to discuss the study and their eligibility. Participants will then be asked to give consent and to pass on an invitation letter and further information about the study to a child they have had together. The study team will then arrange a convenient time to complete a brief telephone interview with veterans to discuss the details of their service, exposures to various things and a brief outline of smoking and drinking habits. All participants (veteran, wife/partner and child) will then go to their GP practice to have a small blood sample collected through placing a needle in a vein in their arm. The blood sample would be sent to Brunel University London for analysis. With each participant’s explicit consent, the study team would also like to monitor all written and electronic medical records to assess their lifelong health. This information would be obtained by linking each participant’s NHS number, date of birth, postcode and gender to various medical records, including those held by NHS Digital on cancer registrations and deaths and the Hospital Episodes Statistics database on hospital admissions. All data would be handled, processed, stored and destroyed in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.
Veteran families cannot volunteer for this study as it could bias the results. However, veteran families who do not wish to be invited to participate in this study may contact the study team at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on telephone number 020 7927 2722 or email VETS@LSHTM.AC.UK to advise accordingly. The study team will also be available to assist with further information or clarification as required.
Jeff served with the Royal Air Force and was posted to the minor trials at Maralinga in Australia. Since becoming involved with the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association jeff has held every office and worked tirelessly to ensuring the survival of the organisation and the development of the services it can offer its members. Jeff became the Chairman of the NCCF at it’s formation.
Dr Rhona Anderson
Division of Biosciences,
School of Health Sciences and Social Care,
Brunel University London
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