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Brunel and military veterans to study genetic impact of nuclear testing

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A new initiative exploring the health impact of radiological and chemical agents on military personnel and their families is set to be launched by Brunel University London and the Nuclear Community Charity Fund.

The University’s Research Institute of Environment, Health and Societies and the Nuclear Community Charity Fund (NCCF) are investing in the region of £2m to establish the UK’s first Centre for Health Effects of Radiological and Chemical Agents (CHRC) devoted to supporting the needs of the aged nuclear community and their families. 

Core research will look for evidence of genetic damage as a consequence of possible exposure to ionising radiation at nuclear weapons test sites in the 1950s and 1960s. 

The Centre’s long-term vision is the improvement of health and well-being in service personnel and their families who believe their genetic composition may have been affected as a result of radiological or chemical exposure. 

The Centre will be led by Dr Rhona Anderson, Senior Lecturer in Biosciences, College of Health and Life Sciences, and an expert in radiation cytogenetics – the study of the effects of radiation on chromosomes.

Dr Anderson will be joined by a multi-disciplinary team of social scientists, biologists and toxicologists from Brunel’s Research Institute of Environment, Health and Societies (directed by Professor Susan Jobling).

The team will work with the nuclear test veteran community and the NCCF to translate research outcomes into evidence-based advice, education and support for potentially affected people.

They will also make evidence-based information about the health and wellbeing of the nuclear community accessible to medical, political and scientific communities, increasing public understanding of the nuclear community's unique heritage.  

Central to the research carried out by the CHRC will be a genetic assessment of 50 British nuclear test veterans (BNTV) and their families (father, mother and one child) and 50 control family trios.

This genome-wide DNA sequence analysis will add to the cytogenetic assessments of the same 50 BNTV family trios and control families which started in 2016. 

Dr Anderson will collaborate with Professor Julian Peto from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Professor Yuri Dubrova at the University of Leicester to identify if there is any genetic variation between BNTV and control groups.

The findings of this genetic research will contribute to addressing ongoing uncertainties about the possibility of exposure to radiation experienced by NTVs. 

Participation in the genetic and cytogenetic study will be by invitation from the scientific team. Dr Anderson is encouraging all families who receive an invitation, particularly those in the control group, to respond and gain a deeper insight into the scope of the project.    

This research will run alongside a number of smaller projects, including studies exploring cognitive health and wellbeing.



(l-r: Nigel Kevin Heaps MBE Esq, BH Associates; Sonia Howe, Aged Veterans Fund; Don James, BNTVA Trustee; Jeff Liddiatt, NCCF Chairman; Dr Rhona Anderson and Professor Susan Jobling, Brunel University London; Alan Owens, BNTVA Chairman)

The Centre for Health Effects of Radiological and Chemical Agents will be formally launched at the end of 2017.

The NCCF has been created by the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association to deliver projects and support to the community of British nuclear veterans and their families. It is financed by the Aged Veterans Fund which was created by the Chancellor using LIBOR funds.

Other work of the NCCF includes providing essential equipment, support and therapies to reduce suffering, increase health and wellbeing across the nuclear community.


Reported by:

Sarah Cox, Media Relations