This study investigates how, in the late 1940s and 1950s, fears of nuclear accidents and nuclear warfare shaped postwar radiobiology. The new and intense forms of radiation generated by nuclear reactor technology, and which would be released in the event of a nuclear war, created concerns about a public-health hazard unprecedented in form and scale. Fears of inadvertent exposure to acute and potentially lethal radiation launched a search for anti-radiation therapies, out of which emerged the new technique of bone marrow transplantation (BMT). This study analyzes the use of BMT first as a research tool to explore the biological effects of ionizing radiation, and then as an adjunct to radiotherapy for the treatment of cancer. In highlighting how BMT became the province of different research and clinical constituencies, this study develops an understanding of the forces and contingencies that shaped its development. Exploring the emergence of BMT and the uses to which it was put, it reveals that BMT remained a technique in the making——unstable and far from standardized, even as it became both a widely used research tool and rapidly made its way into the clinic. More broadly, it casts new light on one route through which the Manhattan Project influenced postwar radiobiology; it also affords new insights into one means by which radiobiology came to serve the interests of the Cold War state. In its focus on BMT this paper provides a new perspective on the evolving relationship between radiobiology and biomedicine in the postwar period.
Manhattan Transfer: Lethal Radiation, Bone Marrow Transplantation, and the Birth of Stem Cell Biology, ca. 1942––1961
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Alison Kraft; Manhattan Transfer: Lethal Radiation, Bone Marrow Transplantation, and the Birth of Stem Cell Biology, ca. 1942––1961. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 1 May 2009; 39 (2): 171–218. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2009.39.2.171
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