DOE Openness: Human Radiation Experiments: Roadmap to the Project
HUMAN RADIATION STUDIES:
Early Education and Career, (1920 to Mid '50s)
|GOURLEY:||Good morning. It is January 20, 1995. This is Karoline Gourley. I'm here with Darrell Fisher and we're here [conducting] an oral history with Dr. Constantine Maletskos in Gloucester, Massachusetts.|
|FISHER:||Thank you for allowing us to come. This is an interesting opportunity for us to learn more about your personal history as well as your scientific accomplishments. We'd first like to ask what brought you into the field of science and drove your interest, in particular, toward the radiation sciences and health physics.|
|MALETSKOS:|| Well, the original interest for going into science was back
in high school. Having attended the Boston Latin School, which was the first
public school in the country, I decided that I wanted to go to MIT1
and had good enough grades to just walk innot go through what was called
the College Board business at that time; it's called SAT [(Scholastic Aptitude
Test)] now. I thought I would be interested, even back then, in doing something
with electrical engineering in medicine. Why I got that idea, I have no idea at
this stage in the game or then.|
Maybe. I started out in electrical engineering and decided that [it was] not really what I wanted to do, given the way they were teaching electrical engineering. I don't [know] why I ha[d] this innate feeling toward it [(meaning biology)]. I knew I had to get something into biology, so I slowly worked my way from a freshman in Electrical Engineeringall the way into the Biology Department in time to be able to graduate, eventually, with both my bachelor's and master's [degrees] in Biology.
That's how things took place at that time; in the five-year course which was available to me at that time, you [could receive] both of those degrees [at the end]. In the middle of the senior year, for the summer between the two years, I wanted a job so I went searching around MIT and I ended [up] in Professor Robley Evans's2 laboratory, which turned out to be a career-marking step.
|GOURLEY:||When you first started with Dr. Evans, what was he working on?|
|MALETSKOS:|| He had already come to MIT about 1934 or 1935 on invitation
by Karl Compton, who was the president of MIT, to set up a nuclear engineering
course, [which] would eventually become big and broad as it could be. At the
same time, [Compton] set up a center, which was eventually called the
Radioactivity Center, in which all these new things related to nuclear physics,
including radiation and radioactivity, would be disseminated in various fields.
[In] that way you would get maximum effect from a place like the Institute
[(MIT)] by producing students and scientists who would know a bit about this
[new field] so that they could then apply it to their own particular research
[in] the various different fields.|
The Radioactivity Center consisted of representatives eventually from six or seven departments at the Institute: Biology, Nutrition, Electrical Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and that sort of thing. It was an Institute-wide center and one of the first ones [(research centers)] that the Institute had. So, the Institute [was] quite great in doing the center business, where you bring a lot of talents together and do multidisciplinary work.
At the time that I came on board, he [(Compton)] had already started his Nuclear Physics course. They were doing a lot of basic nuclear physics studies [at the Radioactivity Center]. He had arranged to get a cyclotron that [M.] Stanley Livingston,3 who had worked with [Ernest O.] Lawrence4 in developing, designing, the cyclotron in Berkeley[, would provide]. Evans managed to get the funds for it from the Markle Foundation. [And as a result,] the priority for that cyclotron, because of the Markle Foundation funding, was biology and medicine, not physics. Even from the very beginning, this business of getting involved with biological and medical aspects with people, animals, and that sort of thing was basically [involved with the initial] construction of that cyclotron, which is quite interesting.
|FISHER:||Which would have been about which year?|
|MALETSKOS:|| The cyclotron probably gotI even helped run the
cyclotron, so it was available and running in 1942. I think it was put together
a year or two beforehand. It ran quite a bit and was used an awful lot during
World War II, when people didn't even know what [was] going on in terms of what
they were producing and what kind of experiments they were doing.|
One of the important things that they [(medical scientists in the greater Boston area) conducted] was blood preservation studies, at the request of the military. [Before the studies,] they could only store blood for about a week, and that wasn't that bad for going [by ship] to [the European Theater of World War II], but going [by ship] to the Pacific [Theater], you needed a lot more time. One of the first major papers that came out of the Radioactivity Center, from the medical standpoint, had to do with this first work on blood preservation. It is very interesting to read that first paper, because it's a classic paper on how to report [results].
|FISHER:||Who wrote it?|
|MALETSKOS:||Evans and the team of physicians from Harvard Medical School. This was a joint program, and they managed to extend the period [for blood storage] from one week to three weeks; that made all the difference in the world.|
|GOURLEY:||And was that through radiation?|
|MALETSKOS:|| That was through the use of radioactivity; they used radioactive iron to
study, to tag the red cells, [and] to preserve them. You take the red cells from
somebody by blood transfusion, tag the red cells, put them back into a person,
and then see how those blood cells that you put back worked on the basis of
whatever [medium] they had been stored in. It was just a trial-and-error method
until they kept on finding and homing-in on what eventually became the material
[known as] ACD, acid citrate dextrose.|
What is also amazing is that they [used] not only one radioactive iron, they used two [radioisotopes of iron]5 in the final experiments; [and] they used a radioactive iodine6 as well. So there were triple tracers experiments involved.
With each extra tracer, you get ten times more information then you get from the first one. So by using three radioactive tracers, rather than one, they were getting a hundred times more information. What was really interesting is that they found out that in one part of the process the cells that you were putting back in were preserved nicely, but the medium was destroying the person's [own] good cells. Can you imagine what would [have] happen[ed] if they hadn't found that?
|GOURLEY:||So, how long into it did they find that?|
|MALETSKOS:||Well, they found it before it was ready to go out into the real world.|
|FISHER:||Did this work take place during World War II?|
|MALETSKOS:||Yes, and the first paper7 was in 1946. It was a classic paper, which I recommend [that] anybody read to [understand] the whole aspect of how you [conduct] an experiment from the start of producing material, to using it, to developing the process, and to do all the dosimetry8 that you could do in those days and with what you could compare it to see whether the dosimetry was reasonable in terms of what other exposures were available in those days.|
|FISHER:||You didn't actually join this group until the 1950s?|
|MALETSKOS:|| I joined them in 1948 formally. After 1942, I had to finish my [academic]
year, and then I had to go into the army to do my tour of duty.|
Now getting back to the original question, you asked me what [research] was going on [under Dr. Evans]. Well, one of the things that was going on, for the war effort, was that they needed to make crystal oscillators [to use as receivers in crystal radios]. One of the problems was, "How do you get at [(determine)] the crystal axis quickly [so as to make the precision cuts at assembly-line speeds]?" So they decided to do it with x rays and a count-rate meter,9 and I built the first two commercial count-rate meters during that time. Evans was doing radium10 work already, and I helped build some of the [ionization] chambers [for radiation measurements] that were required, and because of all this work for the blood preservation (and I didn't know that [it] was coming because there was no reason for me to know in 1942 as a summer worker). They [(Evans and his team)] knew they were going to do a zillion samples.
So, I helped build the first automatic sample changer during that summer; it was a very interesting first summer. As a consequence of that [work], I did the first experiment with radioactivity ever at MIT in the Biology [Department]. As a result of my having been [at the Radioactivity Center,] my [master's] thesis was on the diffusion of phosphorus in nerve axons;11 that was the real impetus of what got me going and why you people are interviewing me.
Afterwards, I went back to the Biology Department with the idea I would get my Ph.D. in that. I was a research assistant and I had to put two big laboratories together that had gone defunct as a result of the war. The laboratories I put together were Enzymology and Biophysics; that was my major job. In the meantime, I was supposed to be getting ready for my Ph.D. exams; I did very well in the written part [of the exams], but I didn't do very well in the orals, mainly because I'm not very good at memory. And I guess I was too apprehensive [(that I might forget what I had learned)] and didn't make the grade.
But anyway, Evans heard about it, and he said, "Come on down here, take charge of all the biology in the Radioactivity Center, and we'll see how we'll get you a Ph.D."
|FISHER:||You had already worked with Evans for some years?|
|MALETSKOS:||Only that summer. And also in the following year when I did my radiophosphorus experiment, I was always down at the Radioactivity Center, so I was seeing him, but nothing was [planned]. He assigned one person to whom I could talk freely and [was told] not to pester anybody else, because everybody else was pretty busy. So, that was very nice [(having someone to pose questions to)] because I had to get the radioactivity, I had to standardize and know what I was doing. I also had my own counting equipment12 in the Biology Department.|
|FISHER:||Where did you get the funding to support some of these activities?|
|MALETSKOS:|| Back in those days, it had to be the AEC.13 During the war
effort, I don't know, it would be a lot of [funding from] the military. There
was the Office of Scientific Research and Development14 that had
been set up, and Vannevar Bush,15 who had been from MIT, set up this
whole overs[ight] research group; they were the ones that would be funneling
information back and forth to various military organizations and various
departments in the universities throughout the country. So a lot of the funding
must have come from that, but I don't know those details at all.|
At the time I was there, the AEC was in the picture as well as the Office of Naval Research. The Office of Naval Research was remarkably good in their support of basic research, that [they] had no immediate help to them as such, but they anticipated that it [(the basic research)] would all be useful in the long run, which I thought remarkable for a military organization. So those were the two main funding [groups] when I first got there on a more permanent basis.
|GOURLEY:||You said there was no need for you to know about some of [the] things|
|MALETSKOS:||There were secret things being done [at MIT that] I said there was no need [for me] to know. There was a war onremember. The Radioactivity Center and all of MIT was heavily involved in basic military research to help the war effort; all the initial radar work was being developed in this country over there [(at MIT)] and it turned out to be the real major resource for radar development. People knew that something was going on, obviously all over this country, but [I] wasn't involved; that's why I said I didn't need to know.16 There were a lot of things going on that even in the Radioactivity Center that there was no need for me to know. This was in 1942, when I came in 1948, there was still some classified work going on and Evans wanted me to have clearance, and I got clearance at that particular point.|
|FISHER:||Do you recall any work that Robley Evans did for the Manhattan Project17 at the Radioactivity Center?|
|MALETSKOS:||I don't recall right offhand now; I think I could think of something, but I don't know. I'm sure the answer is yes, [Evans did some work on the Manhattan Project]. It could have been a lot of [radiation] counter [and] instrument development. Sandy Brown18 was the counter developer in the U.S., for [all] practical purposes; he developed the theory of the Geiger counter19 operation. [He] could end up designing any kind of a counter you wanted with anything. As a matter of fact, there is some place at MIT right now (and I don't know where it is, because I've searched and searched and couldn't find itbecause it would make a terrific museum piece) whose electrodes are a fork and a spoon; this was his proof that he could [make] any doggone kind of counter you wanted.|
|FISHER:||You mentioned the use of radioiron from the cyclotron in blood preservation studies and blood metabolism20 studies. Do you recall other uses of radioactive iron in human studies during the period of 1940?|
|MALETSKOS:|| Yes, 1948 on. There was earlier work with the Department of Nutrition21
in the iron absorption studies, which were to determine whether phytates22
prevented the absorption of iron when it's present in cereals. The work that I
got involved in was (now having the developed technique of using red cell tags
and there were many things one could do) blood volume studies.|
One of the things the gynecologists wanted to know about is, "How does the blood volume of a pregnant woman change with respect to time, and what happens after the child's birth?" When you take a venous sample from your vein on your elbow, for example, all you're doing is getting the hematocrit23of what's in the sample in [that] pipe, but you don't know what's happening [in] the whole body.
The only way to determine that is you have to determine what the plasma24 volume is doing and what the red blood cell volume is doing. You could determine the plasma volume by using a dye and they used what is called "Evans blue" (which has nothing to do with Robley Evans), but, that's what they called it. You could inject [the dye, having] measured the concentration of the dye with a photometer25 or something like that, [then you'd] separate the cells [to] get the plasma sample, next measure] the concentration of the dye again, and [then] by division (by ratio), you could tell what the volume of the plasma [in the body] was.
But there was no way to measure what the volume of the red cells was, and so you didn't know what was really happening to [blood in] a pregnant woman. So now along came [radioactive] tag[ged] red cells and you could say, "Ah, we'll use [tagged]26 red cells as the agent and we'll inject those [cells] and see how dilute they become when then travel around the body; then, by taking another sample, we'll make the measurement."
This is exactly what we did, and there is a paper that has been written up on that [subject].27 The [pregnant women] were injected with small amounts of radioactive iron, and [then] small amounts of red cells [were obtained] on a periodic basis, ending up between six and eight [times], depending on when you first got ahold of the pregnant women for research purposes; the gynecologist tried to get them all as early [in their pregnancy] as possible. We had six to eight groupings, of time [to birth], up to pregnancy; and then they were measured [for red-cell radioactivity] up to two times after pregnancy to see how rapidly [the women's blood volume] came back [up] to normal.
|FISHER:||These studies were done back in the early 1950s?|
|MALETSKOS:|| That's right. Having done that, and by the way, one of the big things that
the press got into when they were reviewing [this experiment] was the big deal
that one of these women hemorrhaged at birth. Well, a woman occasionally
hemorrhages at birth.|
It happens that one of these women [in the study] hemorrhaged at birth, and so we mentioned it (obviously); you're doing a blood volume study, you're going to mention [that] this woman hemorrhaged at birth. She was a perfectly good candidate for the study, up to birth, but we mention that because we say we had to take her out of the group after birth.
So the news media immediately connected hemorrhaging with radiation and therefore, [the press concluded] the radiation did it. And they persisted on that [subject] for a very long time [by] showing what they [believed was] very bad practice.
|FISHER:||Where in fact, a tracer [(minuscule amount of radioactive tag)] amount of radioiron wouldn't be enough in terms of radiation dose to cause anything to hemorrhage?|
|MALETSKOS:||Absolutely not; not only that, but [it wouldn't be enough] to cause any other health effect at the levels that we gave, and remember this was long-lived iron-55 [(half-life of 2.7 years)], not iron-59 [(half-life of 44.5 days)]. The reason these experiments could be done [was that red-cell] donors were around because of the blood preservation studies; they still had some radioactive iron [in them]. We didn't have new donors, we just used them.|
|GOURLEY:||So, the [tagged] red cell project to determine where you learned about blood preservation, that was a human study?|
|MALETSKOS:||Yes, had to be. Eventually, although there was a lot of work that was done in the laboratory [first]. You could put cells in a test medium[the first thing you want] to do is watch what happens over a period of time without doing anything [in people]. A medium could ruin the cells right on the spot; the [cells] could hemolyze and that's the end of that particular medium. Hemolysis is when the cells break apart and all the hemoglobin comes out.|
|GOURLEY:||How many subjects were there on that study?|
|MALETSKOS:||I don't know. It's possible to find out, but I don't happen to know; a lot of them were probably medical students.|
|GOURLEY:||The pregnant womenthey came out of the red-blood-cell preservation study?|
|MALETSKOS:||The donors from the preservation study were available, as far as I know, (because I don't recall that we [used] new donors by injecting them with radioactive iron to incorporate in[to] the[ir] red blood cells) to use [in the blood volume study]. I don't remember that [additional subjects were injected]; I can't prove it, but I don't remember. But, the [donors] were available, and [though] their radioiron levels were still going down with time, we had enough sensitivity in our instruments that we could still measure th[em], not only [the blood] from the donors, but after [the blood] dilution by the pregnant women. That shows what you could do if you sit there and develop techniques and so forth that have great [radiation measurement] sensitivity; it doesn't mean that you're just jacking up the radioactivityyou are in fact jacking up the sensitivity so that you could use what radioactivity is there.|
|GOURLEY:||What sorts of dosages are we talking about?|
|MALETSKOS:||We're talking a few millirem28 or something like that.|
|GOURLEY:||The records on thisare they still at the Radioactivity Center?|
|MALETSKOS:||All the medical records are in the medical school [and the obstetrical hospital]. I never saw any of the pregnant women; there [was] no reason for me to see them. This [research] was all done on an outpatient basis; they would come in while they were being observed during the pregnancy for regular checkups and then we'd just draw a sample of blood. On the first visit, you'd just get an injection of red blood cells, and the only time that they stayed in the hospital was when they were giving birth. They came back afterwards on two occasions, separated by a month, to see if [their blood volumes] returned to normal by the second month.|
|FISHER:||If I read some names to you, maybe you could tell me a little bit about the investigators on different studies? Clement E. Smith.|
|MALETSKOS:||He was the obstetrician.|
|MALETSKOS:||She was the research assistant.|
|FISHER:||John D. Gibson.|
|MALETSKOS:||He was the first physician who was originally involved in the beginning of the blood [preservation studies]. He was the honcho, from the medical standpoint, as Evans was from the physics standpoint.|
|FISHER:||The blood preservation studies: did Robley Evans advise the physicians on the amounts of radioiron that could be considered safe for these administrations?|
|MALETSKOS:|| That's why I go back and tell you to read that first paper: it's classic.
Everything that was done with anybody was a [close working] relationship. It was
not a case of, "Yeah, we'll provide you with radioactivity; and you can do
whatever you want." Both of them [(Gibson and Evans)] had to sit downremember
nobody had ever done anything like this before to start with. You had to sit
down and figure out, "Can we do the experiment with what we know right now?
And what is required [to ensure that the procedure will be effective]?"
Keep in mind that when I was there in 1942, they already had decided [that] they
were obviously going to do [the study]; [because] they were going to have so
many samples, they weren't going to be able to sit and measure them by hand one
at a time, [so] they needed an automatic [measuring] instrument.|
We eventually built four of those things; [they] became the impetus for the first nuclear instrument company, Tracerlab[, which] then built better versions of those [instruments]. There was so much going on. We had just [designed] a battery of electroplating units because we electroplated the iron [to be] able to measure the x rays because they were so easily attenuated; the beta rays 29of the iron-59 were no problem.
Evans insisted that there be total knowledge on the part of everybody involved, no matter who it was, regarding the dosimetry, which had to be considered in-depth. That's why I ask you to go back [and read that article]; the section on dosimetry was [written by] Evans himself.
|FISHER:||It may be difficult [for] the general public in the 1990s to understand why normal pregnant women would be injected with a radioactive material.|
|MALETSKOS:||You have to keep in mind that there was one step beyond that, that you had to consider: that woman is going to develop a child[, and] that child is going to get some of that radioactive iron. The critical organif you want to, call it the critical personwas the fetus, not the woman.|
|FISHER:||What were some of the ways in which the patient was informed of the study of the potential risks, or the benefits to her and to science? Do you recall any of this?|
|MALETSKOS:||I don't know any of those details, and the reason for this was because the
experiment was set up at Evans's level, and then I would eventually be notified.
Evans would just keep an eye on [the progress] and I would constantly inform him
[on research progress] and that sort of thing; or he'd get involved when we ran
into a snag and what-have-you. |
It was worked out in such a way (and I'm just guessing, because I wasn't there) in that there was total trust between the two [interacting research] groups, and in this particular case, it happens to be the Radioactivity Center and the Department of Obstetrics, let's say, at the Harvard Medical School and the Boston Lying-In Hospital; it could be the Radioactivity Center or some other group.
There was an intimate relationship at the top level and everybody really knew each other before they did any [research] because they would know each other for other reasons. And everybody was counted on to do their job; the physician was counted on to do the correct thing with respect to the [research] subjects and I personally do not know what that [researcher] did. I'm sure in those days that it wasn't as formal, anywhere near as formal, as we have it right now. But I'm sure there would have been a conversation between them [(doctor and subject)].
I don't even know who the females were, for example: I don't know whether they were all white, all black, [or] a mixture of everything. In Boston, everybody would come in, so I cannot even tell you that [(their race)]. I don't even know what their names were; they had code numbers so we would never know who it was, and that was it.
So, I'm assuming that it [(the research)] was done properly, but informally. And in those days, keep in mind, that physicians were looked upon by the patients with sort of admiration, if you want to look at it that way, that they were people that they would trust themselves to and that was the custom of the time; and what actually literally went on, there is no way for me to know at that instant. That was not my level of getting involved.
|FISHER:||Not being the physician in charge, you probably don't know about such issues as informed consent?|
|MALETSKOS:||Not relating to these experiments.|
|FISHER:||Is Dr. Gibson still alive?|
|MALETSKOS:||No, he's been dead quite a while. Keep in mind, he was on that paper, he was the one who really knew about radioactivity and medicine and people and everything else. So Clement Smith, for example, learned a lot and had to do his part of the job, but it was Gibson who was really looking at the medical aspects of it, from the standpoint of the research.|
|GOURLEY:||And your aspect was the dosimetry of it?|
|MALETSKOS:||Dosimetry had already been done. But, I'm sure I did it on my own just for the practice of doing it, because we were learning how to do dosimetry. As I remember, all this business of new units were coming in30and everything else. The only thing you had back in the old days was this little old Roentgen31 and that's it.|
|FISHER:||Do you remember a Dr. Caton?|
|MALETSKOS:||Yes. What's the subject of the paper?|
|FISHER:||"The Circulating Red Cell Volume and Body Hematocrit in Normal Pregnancy."32|
|MALETSKOS:||Excuse me, I gave you [some] wrong information. Caton was the gynecologist and obstetrician and Clement Smith was the pediatrician, because that was the paper that had the children in itdidn't it? Go back to where you read Clement Smith.|
|FISHER:||Smith was on "Persistence and Utilization of Maternal Iron for Blood Formation During Infancy."33|
|MALETSKOS:|| Yes, he was the pediatrician. See, that's a follow-up [study]. We knew
that the infants would have some radioactivity in them, and [that] if we [used]
sensitive enough [radiation detection instruments] we might be able to measure
the radioiron in their red cells. And we could [also] see how that iron lasted
over a period of time as dietary iron started to come in [(be ingested)]. And
that's what we did.|
We followed those infants for a year or two, whatever it was, and for the first three months or something like that, nothing changed [in the child's blood radioactive concentration]. This meant that the child had the iron that it needed in its own stores and was not getting anything significant from the mother's milk, if they were on that [(mother's milk)], or where ever the [(formula)] source was. It was only later on that you see this [iron] curve start to going down and being diluted.
|FISHER:||After being corrected for decay.|
|MALETSKOS:||Yes, all that kind of stuff; everything and all that was done correctly; we always had standards along with [the subject's samples], so you were automatically corrected for decay.|
|FISHER:||Did you just measure radioiron in blood in these studies? There wasn't any counting of the infant in, say, a small whole-body counter?34|
|MALETSKOS:||We didn't have a whole-body counter in those days35and you couldn't measure the x rays very well.|
|FISHER:||That's interesting to note for historical purposes.|
|MALETSKOS:||We were doing whole-body counting with the radium subjects36 at the time, but that was out in the open air.|
|FISHER:||In an unshielded counter?|
|MALETSKOS:||In a classroom. I did an awful lot of those measurements; they'd take all-day-long, and it's tough not only on the subject, but it's tough on the researcher.|
|GOURLEY:||What makes it so difficult?|
|MALETSKOS:||It takes so long and you have to repeat and alternate because you don't know what background [radiation] is doing during the day.37 So, you have to keep repeating the experiment all over again, so that you could average out [the radiation readings] throughout the whole day and hopefully take into consideration whatever variations took place.|
Radium Dial Painter Research (Early '50s60s)
|GOURLEY:||So that was with the radium dial painters?|
|MALETSKOS:||Those were the methods that Evans had already developed [to measure] the radium dial painters by and then that was all translated when we got a whole-body counter at MIT, which was one of the first ones [(counters)].|
|GOURLEY:||About what year did that arrive?|
|MALETSKOS:||Between 1955 and 1960. We went through a whole investigation of what materials to use and everything else because there were various kinds of soils that could be used to make bricks. For example: dunite bricks38 are the ones that I remember that could have been used for a low-background walls and, therefore, would be a cheap way to go, and people could build it easily. But it turned out that good old-fashion battleship steel (pre-World War II) was the best way to go, and that's how we built it.|
|FISHER:||During the early '50s, right at the time you were completing your doctoral degree, you were working with Robley Evans on a number of different studies|
|MALETSKOS:||That's right, I was in charge of the biology part of the whole Radioactivity Center and a number of things were going on; some of them were my own.|
|FISHER:||You were measuring radium and radium dial painters.|
|MALETSKOS:||That's right, both in terms of the radon39 [level] that was released [in their breath] and the gamma ray40 content of the body; so the sum of those two measurements was the total radium in the body.|
|FISHER:||By this time, radium dial painting had ceased to be a practice, hadn't it?|
|MALETSKOS:|| Yes, the original dial painters were back in the late '10s and in the
early '20s, and that's when the effect of the radium was observed by Harrison
Martland, who was the medical examiner in New Jersey. Evans got involved in 1934
with somebody [visiting] him who was worried about radium being used in
California; that was the beginning of Evans getting involved for the rest of
[his] life with the study of radium toxicity.|
Then when he came to MIT, he continued this interest, and slowly was making measurements on people [(individuals who had ingested radium)], as he could find them. After World War II, it was decided that this was really an important group of people [(the radium dial painters)] that had to be studied; here [they] had this radium in them for all these years; some of them were getting into [medical] trouble,41 and some of them were not. What was the story and what did this mean for us in terms of setting standards?42 [Being] in the war [effort, we] had to have a standard, because they had to make all this military equipment that had to have self-luminous[, radium-dial instruments], especially for airplane pilots and tank people and that sort of thing, where you could not turn the light on because then you'd be seen by the enemy. So, there was this big impetus to develop a [radium exposure] standard. The standard was set in 1940 with the available people that had been studied; a total of 27 [people with intakes of radium who] fell into two groups: [those exposed to an internal dose] above one microcurie,43 [who] get in trouble [(become sick)], [and those exposed to an internal dose] below one microcurie, [who] don't get into trouble.
|FISHER:||You're talking about one microcurie [of radium deposited in the body].|
|MALETSKOS:||Yes, internally, inside your body, integrated into the bone structure.|
|GOURLEY:||That was a determination after they had been ingesting the radium for how many years?|
|MALETSKOS:||Some of them were [ingesting radium] for 20 years or more; some of these people that were studied were people [who] had to be treated medically with radium. This was a big thing, to use radium for medicinal purposes; radium was going to cure, I don't know how many zillion problems. Some of them got large amounts, some of them got injections, some of them drank what was called radiothor; you drank it about once a month or something.|
|FISHER:||Did you count any people who were radiothor drinkers?|
|MALETSKOS:||Sure, half of our people had mesothorium [(radium-228)] in them; some of it was because they spiked the paint with it, and some of it was because they drank the radiothor and that sort of thing. That's why you'll see in the bibliography, the experiment that had to be done on the absorption of the thorium and radium, because until we knew what the answer on that was, there was an opportunity for us to lose half of our study group.|
Fernald School Calcium Metabolism Studies (1948 to Early '50s)
|FISHER:||We'll get to that in a little bit and ask you some more specific questions about the radium and thorium. You were also involved in some controversial studies in the early '50s on calcium metabolism and uptake in man; was this using calcium-45 produced at the [MIT] cyclotron, or was this calcium obtained somewhere else?|
|MALETSKOS:||Let's make sure about the use of the word "controversial." They weren't controversial at the time they were done; they became controversial in 1993[, when Secretary of Energy O'Leary launched her openness campaign to "come clean" about the alleged abuses of the past].|
|FISHER:||That's what I meant.|
|MALETSKOS:|| I had mentioned that before I got [to] the Radioactivity Center in 1948,
an experiment had been done by the [MIT] Department of Nutrition on the
absorption effects of phytates on radioactive iron because radioactive iron was
available; [it had been used] for the blood preservation studies.|
Here was a situation where we wanted to know what phytates do to [iron absorption] because we're sweating out [a problem]; the world eats cereals left and right, especially the people who aren't very well-off [financially], and especially now in what we now call developing countries, and it could be a serious [malnutrition problem] if you're just holding the iron away if they happen to eat the wrong "cereal."44 So they did the experiment. (I don't know who started it, but Evans and Bob Harris[, who] were in charge of nutrition, obviously got together at some point, and they both knew what they were doing, and I'm sure Bob Harrison said, "Boy that's terrific!")
|FISHER:||Can you describe this experiment?45|
|MALETSKOS:||Well, I wasn't there, [but] I can describe now what the next step was,
which is: later on, the same problem would occur with calcium, so calcium and
phytates became an important thing to study.|
When I came to the Radioactivity Center, this experiment had already been conceived and designed, and was waiting for animal experiments to be done. [These animal experiments] were being done at MIT because [we] didn't know what the dosimetry was going to be like [on humans] and how much you could give that would [be] consider[ed] safe.
Nobody had ever done a calcium experiment before using radioactive calcium, calcium-45, which you could now get from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission program; so all the initial work that was developed ([namely,] use of the students from the mental institution, any informed consent, the general design of the experiment; not the details, because that would come when you knew everything) had already been decided upon. So I was not involved in any of that part of it. I was involved in the dosimetry, the development of techniques for making the measurements and how to analyze the data eventually, and all this kind of stuff.
|FISHER:||These are important aspects of dosimetry; but do you remember how the subjects were chosen by the physicians?|
|MALETSKOS:|| I do know, because I was involved; there were criteria set for what the
status of the subjects had to be. Obviously, you couldn't have a subject that
was sick from something that had to do with the alimentary tract.46
Is that what you are referring to? All of those considerations were all in
there: how you chose which subject actually became a part of the group that was
going to be in the experimental group had a lot to do [with them]; how easy it
was for that [decision] to be managed; and was the subject willing and not
afraid of the experimentthat sort of thing.|
They were essentially young kids, you see; I saw those kids eventually, when I was invited to one of the Christmas dinners. This is what they called the Science Club Group, and it's been misinterpreted from the very beginning; I can't believe it! They were very nice young kids. My first reaction was, [when] I'd [visited] the mental institution in the earlier phases of it, and boy there were some sights in there that still bother me today.
|MALETSKOS:|| Well, the kind of physical situation some of the people, some of them were
plain skeletons, they couldn't move and everything else; it was really difficult
to see, you'd see one person and you'd feel sorry for [him], [but when] you
[would] see a lot of them[, it was very difficult].|
[But with regard to the boys in the experiment,] there was nothing wrong with them. These were people that had to be in an institution like that and they were being cared for well, as far as I could see; the beds were cleaned, there were no smells around, at least in the places that I had gone to.
So as far as I was concerned that place was being run very well; now what was going on in detail, I don't know, and I don't know how they were chosen. But the kids that I saw that had been chosen [for the experiment] looked fine to me and essentially looked normal to me. It turns out that a lot of them were normal; they were just put in there because the[ir] families couldn't handle them.
|FISHER:||Were they considered a part of the Science Club because they had participated in the experiment?|
|MALETSKOS:|| It sounded to me like an afterthought; it wasn't originally set up
as an enticing method; and remember, even today, there are ads in the paper
inviting you to participate and stipends [are indicated], and I've seen one
stipend that goes up to 3,000 dollars. Is that enticement or is that not
enticement? The object is that you've got to pay this person for their time. But
you don't want to overpay the person, to make sure that you [are not] forcing
them, in effect, to come off the street [to jump at a rare chance to earn good
The [children] were pickedand it was an afterthought, as I gatherthat somebody was talking about: "It would be nice [to do something for them because] these kids have been involved, we've had to jab them [with needles], and they had to eat a mealevery little drop of it, because you wanted to be sure they got 100 percent of the radioactivity wouldn't it be nice to do something for them?" So to make them feel like they were special, they called it the Science Group, and the only thing they got was one meal, maybe twice in their whole career, outside of the institution at the MIT Faculty Club and as I remember, and they got a [small] present.
|FISHER:||So this was done at the MIT Faculty Club?|
|MALETSKOS:||Yes, because it was easier to bring them there; you could control them and all this sort of thing.|
|FISHER:||Did the parents receive any stipend?|
|MALETSKOS:||No, there was no stipend in money; the meal was the stipend, and a little-baby gift [(i.e., a gift of small value)].|
|FISHER:||You mentioned the payment of money for participation.|
|MALETSKOS:||I mentioned that relative to current times; it had nothing to do with money back in those days. I was using the illustration [that] if you wanted to call this enticement, it's just as enticing these days when you have a stipend. You've got to remember that there are a lot of things that are going [on today] that are identical, only we think they're okay now.|
|FISHER:||Did the parents bring them to the [Radioactivity] Center or did the hospital [provide transportation]?|
|MALETSKOS:||They had already been brought there; they were already residents of the Fernald School.|
|GOURLEY:||How did MIT hook up with Fernald?|
|MALETSKOS:||I don't know; could have been a happenstance situation, for all I know, but I don't know. I literally do not know. It must have been done by Professor Harris that I mentioned already, and some contact who knew about the school, and then he eventually contact[ed] the superintendent of the school. There was no way for the school to know that MIT wanted to do this.|
|FISHER:||Do you remember if the parents were involved in this study?|
|MALETSKOS:|| I don't know anything about that. All I know is what's been found out
since then, and we can talk about that later on if you want. Anyway, as far as I
could see, things looked liked they were being handled well. Again, remember
what I said earlier, the school was responsible for getting their subjects, and
it was up to them to do that properly, it was up to MIT on its part to do
everything properly in terms of the radioactivity and the handling [of] the
venous puncturing and [associated sampling].|
The Radioactivity Center's involvement was making sure they got the right amount of [radio]activity, which essentially fell into my lap, and that we had done the dosimetry correctly and everything else [related to measurements]. Remember, I mentioned there were animal studies going on. Well, those went on two years before Evans would give an okay to do this [experiment]. That just shows you how much care was involved in those days. Here the Department of Nutrition [at MIT] was champing at the bit to want to do the experiment and Felix Bronner,47 who was going in to do his Ph.D. on this subject, was champing because he didn't want to stay there [in grad school] forever. And Evans [was] saying, "We [have to learn about the research for] a couple of years before we can make any decisions about how much [of the radioactive substance] we're going to give them [(the human subjects)]." Because [back then,] you didn't know anything about what the metabolism [of calcium] was.
|GOURLEY:||Was it, at the time, considered a metabolism experiment or a dietary experiment?|
|MALETSKOS:|| No, it was a dietary experiment as far as the children were
concerned; the animals were rats: that was just an animal experiment.
This was a dietary experiment on those subjects who are likely to get in troublebecause they were growing kids [who drank] a lot of milk and [ate] a lot of
cereal. Even at the institution they were getting a lot of cereals because it
was a cheap food, but it was a nutritious food.|
If you want to look at it from a broad scope, it was a benefit to them to know this [(about the calcium and iron uptake)]. It was benefit to the whole world to know it because the whole world eats cereals.
|GOURLEY:||How did the funding come in for this?|
|MALETSKOS:||The funding [for] the Radioactivity Center was [from the] Atomic Energy Commission at the time and there was Office of Naval Research [funding as well], but I assume the bulk of it was from the AEC. (I assume I wasn't there watching the balance books as to how much money was [being] taken out of each pocket.) The other side was Quaker Oats[, the cereal company], which was supporting the [nutrition] research, mainly the stipend for the graduate students and a few chemicals [reagents] and that sort of thing; the institution [(the Fernald School)] was supporting it in the sense that they were housing the [children] and taking care of them.|
|GOURLEY:||I was looking through some of the papers over at the Center, and in Robley Evans's personal collection and I noticed some letters|
|MALETSKOS:||Where was this personal collectionyou mean those bound books?|
|GOURLEY:||The Robley Evans collection at MIT Archives.|
|MALETSKOS:||That's the set that I have over here, I assume.|
|GOURLEY:||I noticed that there was some correspondence and that sort of thing with the [United Nations] World Health Organization. Were they particularly interested in the results?|
|MALETSKOS:||I don't know, because I don't recall any of that; I have no recollection about that, even if I did know [at that time]. But I'm sure, he [(Evans)] was involved in an awful lot of things because this Radioactivity Center was one of the sources of development of this whole field [of radiation measurements and application of isotopes in medicine and biology]. You have to keep in mind, keep it in perspective, [that] this was a real challenging era that people looked forward to as being a way to learn a lot of things that you were dying to learn but couldn't do it because there was no way to [do the research].|
|GOURLEY:||Could you just name some of those things "Joe Q Public" wanted to learn that radiation experiments helped them learn?|
|MALETSKOS:|| They were doing absorption experiments; nobody wants to listen on how you
used to do an absorption experiment [and] I'm not going to take a long time to
do that experiment; it took one week.|
To do that experiment the old-fashion way, you had to find your people [in] the same fashion and everything else, put them on a fixed diet that would essentially make them normal, hold them on that diet and measure every dayor not every day, but frequently enough for weeks and weeks and weeksuntil they became stabilized. [And then you had to] give them another diet and do the same thing again for weeks and weeks and weeks; and there [would be] variations in the answers of both of them; and unless there was a big change, you didn't know what happened. In the meantime, you were collecting blood and excreta and you were doing chemical analysis on excreta until you were going blind.
|FISHER:||What types of samples did you measure?|
|MALETSKOS:||We measured feces, urine, and blood; and, of course, the original material and the aliquot48 that actually became part of [the administered radioactivity].|
|FISHER:||Over what length of time were the calcium-45 nutrition studies [conducted]?|
|MALETSKOS:|| It would be a week's worth of collectionthat's it. By then,
we were giving so little [radioactivity]now remember, the doses turned out(I
don't remember what the calculations are that I made, but when this whole "scandal"
started in December of 199, I made a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation
and I [came up with], like, 10 or 20 millirem). It turns out the average was ten
Back in early 1950s, we had good detection sensitivity, so that we could do an experiment and on those young kids give no more than ten millirem; pretty doggone good fundamental radioactivity physics and instrumentation. You can't do any better now, [though] you might do better with calcium-47.
|FISHER:||It's amazing that you were able to do this with the equipment and the instrumentation that was available. What did you use for calibration standards back then?|
|MALETSKOS:|| [A good] part of the [work at the ] Radioactivity Center was [applying]
nuclear physics. There were a lot of people [developing] methods of how you
standardize, and they developed a technique of coincidence counting,49
which you couldn't do with the calcium because it was a pure beta emitter. [It
emits no alpha or gamma energy.]|
They [(nuclear physicists)] calibrated a lot of different [nuclides] for us, and then we used the beta ray part of it, developed it, and then transferred it over to calcium. Meantime, I had someone working on developing a 4 counter;50 no 4 counters [existed then]; and eventually we proved that we were all right, but that was the best that we could do at the time. [There were] a lot to 4 counters that people thought they knew [something] about and they didn't know about it.
As a matter of fact, the beta spectrum turned out to be an important consideration. I had a [colleague who] was doing physics; he was helping me with the student that was developing the 4 counter. And we saw what the problem was; he went back and started studying the beta spectrum.
|FISHER:||The 4 counter was used to [increase counting efficiency by counting low-level standards.]51|
|MALETSKOS:||[It was used to make the detection 100 percent [thorough]; you surrounded the sample entirely by the counter, and the only difference in the two halves of the counter would be the thickness of the source that happened to be on one side. And, if you made your source properly, there would be as little [material or absorption] as possible.|