"Within the first year of the 1986 accident, we were very interested in seeing if we could get involved and participate in long-term studies of health effects," Davis said. "But at the time of the accident, our government and that of the former Soviet Union were not so friendly, so establishing connections through that route didn't work."
But in 1990, an opportunity surfaced when a Russian helicopter pilot involved in the initial efforts to contain the Chernobyl radiation developed leukemia and came to Fred Hutchinson for a bone-marrow transplant. After his treatment, an informal exchange program began between Fred Hutchinson and the National Center for Hematology in Moscow, whose director approached the center for assistance in developing a research and treatment institute for victims of the accident. Davis and colleague Kenneth Kopecky, Ph.D., made their first trip to Moscow that year.
Then, in 1992, the Soviet Union collapsed. "We were back to square one in terms of negotiations," Davis said.
But, thanks to efforts by Fred Hutchinson's then-president and director, Robert W. Day, M.D., and by the late Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, a former center trustee and former chief of naval operations for the U.S. Navy, new relationships were established. In 1992, a research consortium consisting of three international teams working in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine was created to study long-term health effects of the radiation released at Chernobyl.
"Our initial work in Russia was simply to conduct small pilot studies to establish in concrete terms whether we could carry out all phases of an epidemiological study," Davis said. "There was no history of doing this kind of research in Russia or the other two countries. We had to set it all up from scratch."
Challenges included purchasing Russian vehicles for the field teams using federal dollars an unprecedented bureaucratic challenge for the researchers importing all laboratory equipmen
Contact: Kristen Lidke Woodward
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center