Christine Rake et al (2022). British nuclear test veteran family trios for the study of genetic risk. Journal of Radiological Protection 42(2), 021528.
Background to research
A population of (potentially) radiation exposed individuals are veterans of the British nuclear testing programme whereby it is estimated that over 20,000 UK servicemen attended at least one test site through the 1950s and 60s. The question of an adverse genetic (inherited) legacy in descendants remains an ongoing concern for this aged population. The Genetic and Cytogenetic Family trio (GCFT) study was undertaken to, in part, address these concerns.
What is the Genetic and Cytogenetic Family Trio study?
The GCFT study is the first study to obtain blood samples from a group of British nuclear test veterans and their families for the purposes of identifying if there are any genetic alterations in descendants which could have arisen as a consequence of historical paternal (father) exposure to ionising radiation. Specifically, the study is seeking to examine if there is any chromosomal evidence of historical radiation exposure in nuclear test veterans and, if there is any evidence of an increase in genetic alterations in their adult children. In order to undertake this work, a population of test and control veteran family trios (veteran father, mother, child) were invited to take part. The results of all the genetic analyses are to be published elsewhere and are not included in Rake et al., 2022. Instead, the purpose of the Rake et al., 2022 publication is to detail the processes for recruitment and blood sampling of the British nuclear test veterans and their families, and also to provide a general description of the study population recruited.
What did the research published here involve?
Veteran family trios, both test and control, were invited to participate through their GPs in a multi-step recruitment process. At the end of this, we received blood from a total of 91 (49 test and 42 control) families who represented veteran servicemen from the army, RAF and Royal Navy. Due to the lack of dose information available, test veterans were allocated to a 3-point exposure rank. Approximately 1/3 of these were ranked in the lower group. Nineteen (39%) of the 49 test veterans were classified in the mid (5 veterans; 10%) / high (14 veterans; 29%) exposure ranks.
As part of the interview process, information on a range of other potential exposures and health conditions in their families were gathered. Similar proportions of nuclear test and control groups reported ever smoking, drinking alcohol regularly, having X-rays, CT scans or other medical scans involving radiation. Statistically significant differences between the test and control veterans included a higher proportion of nuclear test veterans who said that at least one of their children or grandchildren had been born with a congenital anomaly, sometimes known as birth defects, and a higher proportion of control veterans reported chemical or radiation exposure through their jobs.
What does this mean?
This suggests nuclear test veterans may have been more likely to take part in the study if they thought their family had been adversely affected, whereas other servicemen may have been more likely to participate if they were concerned about their chemical or radiation exposures. The information presented does not provide a link between exposure and health outcome in descendants.
The cohort described here represent an important and unique family trio grouping whose participation is enabling genetic studies, as part of the GCFT study, to be carried out. The results of the genetic analysis are not presented in this report and are to be published at a later date.
This work was, in part, supported by the Nuclear Community Charity Fund (NCCF) through funds received by The Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust under the Aged Veterans Fund Grant AVF16 and Brunel University London.