Source: The Oak Ridger | D. Ray Smith | November 29, 2016
Dr. William “Bill” R. Bibb, then Director, Research Division Oak Ridge Operations, Office U. S. Department of Energy, presented a statement before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Committee on Science and Technology on Sept. 23, 1981. From 1965 until 1970, Dr. Bibb was a member of the Medical Research Branch, Division of Biology and Medicine of the Atomic Energy Commission.
I was honored to have Dr. Bibb take the time to meet with me recently when he was in the area. He spoke at length about one of the programs for which he had oversight responsibility – the Medical Division of Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies/Oak Ridge Associated Universities. He also provided me the text of his statement before the House of Representatives.
The work was done by contractors with oversight by the AEC. One of the contractors was the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies. ORINS was contracted to train scientific personnel from institutions throughout the country in the use of radioisotopes and the primary target students were graduate students.
In February 1948, ORINS was asked by the AEC to consider establishing and operating an Oak Ridge clinical research facility. Other facilities were also being established at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago and at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. One month later, ORINS convened a meeting of Southern medical schools and the decision was made to proceed, primarily because of the exceptional research tools available in Oak Ridge.
So, after gaining approval from the AEC of a proposed operating plan, construction of a laboratory building and renovation of the adjacent unused and existing hospital wing in the AEC-owned community hospital was completed. And a major step forward in medical research into the use of radiation was begun, another first in research here in Oak Ridge.
Dr. Marshall H. Brucer was appointed Chairman of the Medical Division of ORINS and the first patient was admitted to the hospital/research facility in May 1950. Early efforts at internal radioisotope therapy were largely unsuccessful. External radioisotope sources were being considered to be used in place of x-rays and to produce an external beam that could possibly treat cancer without placing a radioactive substance inside the body.
Cobalt-60 was considered a good candidate for external teletherapy. A machine was designed in 1951 and placed in a specially built room at ORINS. After being proven to be an efficient method for providing a radiation dose using Cobalt-60, the machine was sent to M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas, for clinical trials. The trial proved so successful that Cobalt-60 became the most widely used teletherapy source.
Radioiodine-131 became available from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and was used to diagnose and treat thyroid cancer. (Just a few days ago, I provided a tour of the Y-12 History Center for a group of elderly visitors on a commercial tour of Oak Ridge. One of the ladies on the tour spoke up and asked to see the copper-63 that I had mentioned as being an early isotope separated in Y-12’s Calutrons which led to other elements being separated, some of which were used for nuclear medicine.
She went on to tell me that as a child of 12 years of age, she had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She said she was treated using iodine given to her in a “cocktail” of red juice which she drank daily. She was very proud to show that she had lived a long life having survived thyroid cancer through the use of radioisotopes from Oak Ridge!)
ORINS initiated a radioiodine uptake calibration program in 1954. They used mannequins to place artificial thyroid glands with accurately known levels of mock iodine in their necks. These calibration kits were sent to clinics where local instruments were used to measure the thyroid dose and uptake of mock iodine in the mannequin. The local instruments weren’t consistent in their readings and thus the treatment was inconsistent around the country.
Working jointly with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a new instrument was designed which quickly became widely available commercially. This technological advancement initiated by ORINS, which featured the ability to concentrate on the gamma energy from radioiodine, made radioiodine thyroid diagnosis and treatment a standard and reliable medical procedure.
On June 16, 1958, the world’s first industrial nuclear criticality accident occurred in the C-1 Wing of Building 9212 at Y-12. Eight men were exposed to high enough levels of radiation that they were treated at the ORINS Medical Division. All eight recovered and were monitored – over the next 21 years! – by Dr. Gould Andrews who had a special interest in the hematologic effects of radiation.
Another result of the lessons learned from the 1958 criticality accident was the need to improve the radiation monitoring of workers. The film badges were improved significantly as a result of this need to know more about exposures to be able to know when treatment was needed.
Dr. Andrews also developed an acute interest in the hematologic response of patients exposed to total-body irradiation therapeutically. He used the knowledge gained through these studies to predict and treat the effects in exposed workers. As a result, Dr. Andrews became a recognized expert in the field and over the years was called to consult at other institutions where accidents had occurred.
In 1960, when the new Oak Ridge Hospital was completed, the AEC community hospital was renovated and ORINS Medical Division patients moved into the old hospital. This would be the home to the Medical Division until the inpatient care hospital was closed in 1974.